31 October 2018

Celebrating the Dead Around the World

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Humanity has a complex relationship with its ancestors. Consider the many cultures that remember, commemorate, or celebrate the dead in a yearly or biyearly observance. The American holiday of Halloween--though it has morphed into a more commercialized event jam-packed with sweets and costumes and decorations and mischief—even traces its origins to early holidays that honored the dead. The living celebrate and venerate the dead in holidays around the world. Keep reading to learn about a few. Cambodia, Pchum Ben (Ancestor’s Day), late September through mid-October During the 15-day Cambodian holiday Pchum Ben, spirits of the dead are believed to visit the living. Monks prepare pagodas (Buddhist temples) and spend hours chanting suttas (Buddhist scriptures) in honor of the deceased. The nation slows down as celebrants return to their childhood home provinces to visit these elaborately decorated pagodas and pay respects to their ancestors. For 14 days, colorful ceremonies are held, food offerings are made, and many rituals are practiced in veneration of the dead, going back seven generations. The fifteenth day of Pchum Ben, known as Brochum Ben, is a day of celebration. People listen to traditional music and give the Buddhist monks gifts of food and candles. China, Zhongyuan Month (Hungry Ghost Month), seventh lunar month, which is July or August on the Western calendar Zhongyuan Month is a Daoist custom that is thousands of years old. During Zhongyuan Month, spirits of the deceased visit Earth, looking for food and entertainment. Some ghosts like to create mischief, so people who celebrate Zhongyuan Month take precautions. They make food offerings, light incense, decorate with red paper lanterns, and hold ceremonies and other activities to please the dead. Celebrants also participate in one of the most important events during Zhongyuan Month: the Hungry Ghost Festival. It is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), November 1 and 2 Mexico’s Día de los Muertos is actually a two-day event full of festivities and rituals intended to express love and reverence to deceased family members. It is believed that the souls of children and adults return to Earth and reunite with family. The atmosphere is joyous and colorful. Revelers create elaborate altars to the dead with pictures, fruit, sweets, candles, and trinkets. People dress up in costumes and wear traditional makeup in honor of the spirit world. Parades, parties, singing, dancing, and gifts are usual customs. Nigeria, Awuru Odo Festival, November through April The Igbo people of Nigeria welcome the return of the dead every two years during the Awuru Odo Festival (Odo are spirits of the dead). Men take part in elaborate preparations for the spirits’ arrival, which is anytime between September and November. In secret, the men create shrines and fashion Odo masks while the women are responsible for the feasts. Families welcome returning spirits with a cerermony and offerings. In April, before the dead depart, the traditional Awuru Odo performance reenacts the Odo’s arrival on and departure from Earth. The Philippine’s Pangangaluluwa (All Hallow’s Eve), October 31 Traditionally, Pangangaluluwa is like Halloween in two ways: children dress up in costumes and they knock on the doors of neighbors’ homes. But instead of asking for treats, the children sing and request prayers for the dead who are in purgatory. However, Pangangaluluwa is a dying custom, as it has lost its intention of honoring the deceased and has increasingly incorporated Halloween’s practice of trick-or-treating. Some Filipino towns are striving to revive Pangangaluluwa as a holiday to respect and remember the departed.