As many of us can recall the warm nostalgia of trick-or-treating as a child or perhaps the mildly problematic kindergarten re-enactments of the first Thanksgiving, it can be easy to forget the countless different fall holidays, festivals, and celebrations that take place around the world at the same time. While some revolve around giving thanks for the years blessings, some are entirely centered around family and community. Though these holidays may vary in name, practice, and origin, there is one thing agreed upon worldwide: the fall months are full of celebration.
Día de los Muertos – México
Despite being mislabeled at times as the “Mexican Halloween”, Día de Los Muertos is extremely different from the October 31st holiday observed in modern day America. Rather than being celebrated to ward off ghosts, Día de Los Muertos is a lively and joyous celebration meant to honor departed family members.
Ofrendas, or offerings, are made to honor passed family members, typically through their favorite foods and drinks accompanied by vibrant yellow marigolds, or flor de Muerto, on the family’s alter. Flor de Muerto are symbolic of the simultaneous beauty and fragility of life. The bright colors and fragrant scent of the flowers are meant to guide and attract those honored during this festival. The aromas of the food on the Ofrendas are meant to be reminiscent of sharing a meal while they were still alive. These Ofrendas are meant to incentivize their family members to visit from the land of the dead and join the night’s celebrations.
Rather than being a day of mourning, its one of joy and celebration where the families are reunited. The celebrations begin at midnight of November first – Día de los Angelitos or Day of the little angels. This time is when families are reunited with the spirits of passed children. Toys, snacks, candies, and photographs are often incorporated into the Ofrenda in hopes that they would encourage the children to visit. Their names are often written on sugar skulls to honor them as well. Midnight of November 2nd is Día de los Difuntos, meant to honor adults. Ofrendas often have tequila, pan de Muerto, mezcal, pulque, or atole –clearly much more mature than the ofrendas of the previous day. Often families will play games together, dance, and share memories while village bands create the atmosphere of celebration through their music.
Noon of November 2nd is the “grand finale” of Día de los Muertos. Cemetery visits with the intention of decorating the sites with marigolds, gifts, and sugar skulls again with their names are commonplace. In modern times, people often partake in, or simply enjoy, parades in the streets with painted skeletons on their faces.
Mid-Autumn Festival – China
Despite being established during the Song Dynasty, the mid-autumn festival tradition of worshiping the moon goddess finds its origins over 3000 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty. The date falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar, which is typically in September or early October.
Designed to take place when the moon peaks in its cycle, emperors traditionally used the time to pray to Chang’e, the moon goddess, for peace, enjoyable weather, and a good harvest. Today, the mid-autumn festival revolves mostly around family unity and is most commonly celebrated by eating and sharing mooncakes – round pastries filled with some type of stuffing, be it red bean paste, nuts, or egg custard. The round shape is symbolic of unity, particularly familial, hence why family members will often give mooncakes to each other or share pieces of one mooncake. Many people who live away from home will travel back during the time of the festival to celebrate with those they hold dearest to their hearts. Additionally, dances are held during the festival in hopes that the central theme of unity will aid single attendees in meeting their matches.
People will also often eat traditional foods during this time, some even drinking alcoholic beverages designated for the festival. Parades and lanterns are also often utilized to celebrate this festival, boosting community as well as individual family relationships. Though they may vary marginally both in name and celebration methods, the date is often celebrated in South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Diwali – India
Typically celebrated over the span of 5 days, many ethnically Indian people celebrate Diwali – a holiday centered around light, particularly its triumph over darkness. The word Diwali itself is derived from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” which means “rows of lighted lamps”.
The exact origin of the holiday differs between religious and spiritual beliefs as some celebrate it as the return of Prince Rama, his wife, and brother from a battle and exile while others believe it to be the day the emperor declared his belief in Buddhism. Different groups, such as Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs disagree on the origin, offering several other explanations of Diwali’s origin.
To symbolize the ability of light to win over darkness, lamps are often placed in the street or in the home, and fireworks are often set off. Traditional Hindu art is also often placed proudly on the walls of people’s houses as they remember their heritage and the roots of the festival. The festival is often a time of familial reunion and gift giving as well as charitable contributions and religious devotion.
Photo Credit: Reginald Mathalone