Festivals of the Dead: Celebrations of the Dearly Departed Around the World
We are barreling toward Halloween, the scariest, creepiest holiday of the year. The holiday is celebrated mostly in the United States and the United Kingdom, but other countries and cultures honor the dead with unique traditions as well. Here are some of the most interesting celebrations of the dearly departed around the world.
Dia de Los Muertos Probably the closest to the day of Halloween and geographically closest to the United States is Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which starts on November 1 and ends on November 2. It’s rooted in Aztec tradition going back thousands of years and has evolved alongside Mexican culture. The skull is the biggest symbol — it’s used to honor the dead. People make elaborate sugar skulls with the names of dead relatives and wear skull masks and dance to celebrate their dearly departed relatives. Families often go on picnics at gravesites of loved ones and bring gifts to leave at their headstones. Other families create altars dedicated to departed loved ones where they place pictures and candles to honor them on Dia de los Muertos.
Yu Lan Pen In China, they celebrate Yu Lan (The Hungry Ghost Festival). It’s held on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar — August, which is considered “Ghost Month.” Like the Aztecs, it’s about honoring those you love who have passed. During the Hungry Ghost Festival, people make special offerings of food or incense to the spirits. Some families have feasts and set a place for spirits at the table. Others release lighted boats on lakes, ponds or rivers to give spirits a guiding light for their earthly travels.
Gai Jatra In Nepal, they celebrate Gai Jatra (Festival of Cows) in August, which honors the dead as well as pays respect to the feared god of death, Yamaraj. Because the Nepalese people consider cows one of the most sacred creatures (holy cows), families who have lost loved ones in the last year, lead a cow in a big procession with the belief the cows would lead the spirits to heaven.
Pchum Ben In Cambodia, they honor the dead on Pchum Ben (Ancestors’ Day) which falls at the end of Vassa (the sort of Buddhist Lent) — usually at the end of September/beginning of October. It is believed the tortured souls of dead loved ones return to the pagoda for relief from the brutal afterlife. That’s where Cambodians leave food as offerings — they believe the spirits will curse them if they don’t make an offering so most every Cambodian participates in the festival.
While other cultures’ takes on honoring the dead is fascinating, we love our own Halloween traditions and Lakeside has hundreds of products to keep it alive to honor the dead and the living at every holiday. Halloween, Christmas or the 4th of July, we have everything to make your holidays special.