All Souls Day:Customs


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The customs and traditions associated with All Soul's Day are various and differs from culture to culture. It is the common belief that the dead partake of the food in spirit which the living eat later. Therefore an altar is prepared at home with an offering of food upon it. The offerings (ofrendas) are beautifully arranged with flowers such as marigolds which are the traditional flower of the dead. Flowers serve as a living memory reminding us that once these people had remained close to us and they, like us, had once been fascinated by the beauty and color of life. A candle is lit for each soul and they are also embellished in the same way. Incense, mementos, photos and other remembrances of the dead are also kept along with the ofrenda.

In some places it is customary to see the play Don Juan Tenorio. Paper mache and sugar skulls are popular as are coffins made of cardboard from which a skeleton are made to jump out. Special masks are also worn by some.

"Calaveras" are also popular. They are obituaries published in verse style in local newspapers. These verses are descriptive of the character of the individual, who may be dead or even alive, for that matter, and the services rendered by him/her towards the community. These obituaries are generally jovial in character.

Traditional Catholics still honor the customs related to the relief of the souls suffering in purgatory. One custom is for persons to pray six Our Fathers, Hail Mary's and Glory Be's for the intentions of the Pope in a church, and thereby, receive a plenary indulgence for a soul in purgatory. This action may be repeated for another soul, by leaving the church and re-entering it to repeat the prayers.

Another custom is to keep as many candles burning as the number of the recently deceased that are to be remembered. Lighted candles signify that the love, hope and joy they shared with people they had left behind shall be kept forever burning and alive even though they may have found their destiny somewhere or even in the arms of the Heavenly Father. It is believed that during the night, the deceased, leave their tombs and return to visit their homes where the buckets of water are left uncovered so that they are able to quench their thirst. Not to disturb them in their travel, whoever is still on the street walks along the sides of the road, leaving the center free. The dead return to their coffins at the first rooster's crow. In some places, the bells knells all night.

In Mexico they celebrate All Souls Day as el dia de los muertos, or "the day of the dead." Mexicans visit graveyards and the relatives make garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers of every color to place on the graves of deceased relatives the morning of All Souls. They also have a picnic, eat skull-shaped candy, and leave food out for dead relatives. The family spends the entire day at the cemetery. The pastor will visit the cemetery, preach and offer prayers for the dead and then bless the individual graves.

In the Philippines, they celebrate "Memorial Day" loosely based on All Souls Day. Customs include praying novenas for the holy souls, and ornately embellishing the graves of the relatives. On the eve of All Souls (i.e. the evening of All Saints Day), partiers go from door-to-door, requesting gifts and singing a traditional verse representing the liberation of holy souls from purgatory.

In Hungary the day is known as Halottak Napja, "the day of the dead," and a common custom is to invite the orphans into the family and distributing food, clothes, and toys among them.

In rural Poland, a legend developed that at midnight on All Souls Day a bright light shone on the local parish. This light was said to be the holy souls of the departed parishioners gathered to pray for their release from Purgatory at the altars of their former earthly parishes. After this, the souls were said to return to scenes from their earthly life and work, visiting homes and other places. As a sign of welcome, Poles leave their windows and doors ajar on the night of All Souls Day.

In Louisiana, the relatives whitewash and clean the tombstones and prepare garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers to decorate them. In the afternoon of All Saints, the priest processes around the cemetery, blessing the graves and reciting the Rosary. Candles are lit near the graves at dusk, one for each member of the deceased. On All Souls day, Mass is usually offered at the cemetery.

Chinese traditions on the celebration of All Soul's Day have is quite similar to those of the Catholics. Floral offerings, fruits, and other foodstuffs are being offered to the souls, believing that they (souls) too share in that simple feast. Two sticks of Chinese "incense", instead of candles, are lighted for the souls while three are said to be offered to God. Material possessions, in the form of paper-made "playhouse", "car" and "kim" (Chinese money) are made available to the dead person's tomb intending prosperity for the departed souls.
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