In honour of the upcoming Halloween celebrations, we look at three festivals around the world that celebrate the dead. They're not as morbid as you think!
Near Death Festival
Every year in Las Nieves, Spain, people who have suffered a near death experience in the past year attend the Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme. This is a Mass in celebration of the Patron Saint of resurrection.
Thousands of people line the streets of this tiny village. At 10am, the relatives of the people who narrowly escaped death are expected to carry their loved ones in coffins to a small church.
After Mass, which is projected across the village using loudspeakers, the procession then walks to the local cemetery and then back to the church with a large statue of the Virgin Santa Marta overseeing the celebrations.
Even though it is centred on a fairly morbid theme, the festival itself is a celebration with firework displays and parties that carries on well into the following day.
Hungry Ghost Festival
This is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. It is believed that during the festival, the gates of hell are flung open and the ghosts and spirits of ancestors come to visit the living. The living, in turn, must make offerings of food and burnt prayer money to appease the souls of the dead.
The festival officially begins at midnight on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. Thousands of lanterns with the names of ancestors are lit and thousands of firecrackers are set off as traditional dragon dances are held in front of the temple amid thousands of red firecracker wrappers and heavy smoke from the fireworks, incense and paper money. It is a sight to behold.
Stages are set up and Chinese opera (phor thor) and puppet shows are held for both the living and the dead. Spectators leave the first row empty to accommodate the spirits.
To satiate their dead relatives, Chinese will offer meals and burn joss sticks, "hell money" (wads of fake paper money), and assorted paper versions of earthly goods like TVs, cars, and furniture.
Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos is celebrated in many parts of Latin America. It is the day in which the living remember their departed relatives. It is most popular in Mexico, where native Aztec beliefs about the souls of the dead are mixed with the Catholicism brought by the Spanish conquistadores. And far from being a sad affair, the Day of the Dead is a colourful celebration of life and of loved ones who have passed away.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated by visiting the graves of relatives, street parties, building altars and wearing masks or facepaint that represents skulls.
Very early in October, bakeries offer the delicious Pan de Muerto or "Day of the Dead bread". It is made with flour, butter, sugar, eggs, orange peel, anise and yeast. The bread is adorned with strips of dough simulating bones and at the top a small round piece of dough that symbolizes teardrops. These breads are placed on the altars and are also taken to the tombs in the graveyard.
(Image source: Senor Codo)
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