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The human race is connected through life.
In any time period, celebrations of prosperity and life aside from humans are the theme of many feasts. Bountiful harvests bring people together to rejoice in the blessings of the land, while feasts after big wars are celebrated by nations who have fought for their right to be free, for their right to live.
As much as people celebrate life in its entirety, so, too, do people celebrate death in a variety of ways. Whether it’s distanced adoration and respect of the finality of life, or a joyous reminiscence of the lives of those who are no longer with us, the Dead are the center of the spotlight because they, too, were once part of the living tradition -- and their death does not erase that.
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Dia de los Muertos, Mexico
No day of the dead celebration is more well-known than the Mexican “Dia de los Muertos.” According to Barcelo Pin and Travel, a website putting together festivals of the world that are worth attending, the Mexican Day of the Dead dates as far back as the pre-Columbian period. During this time, people would honor the memory of their deceased loved ones through singing and dancing.
They will also bring marigolds to their family members’ graves as well as the food that their past loved ones loved when they were still alive.
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While some days of the dead celebrations are joyous, some are more contemplative and insightful. For example, the Gaelic festival of Samhain, which Bios reports is “celebrated throughout the course of history in Celtic regions such as Scotland or Ireland” may be the source of the modern-day Halloween. And it makes sense because Samhain tradition states that people dress up as supernatural beings and take offerings in their honor by going from house to house.
There were also bonfires during this time because Samhain also fell on the “darker portion” of the winter season and so they mimicked the sunlight by lighting bonfires.
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Zhongyuan Festival, China (and other parts of Asia)
Over at China, it’s called “ghost month.” This celebration, according to Bios, offering smart, sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to approach inevitable phases of human life, this festival happens on the fall harvest when the moon is high and full. Mainly of Buddhist and Taoist belief, this festival has its fair share of ceremonies “to help the ghosts who have yet to transition,” as well as feasts designed to “satisfy them.” There are many Taoists and Buddhists in Asian countries, and so this festival is also celebrated in Taiwan, Singapore and other parts of Asia.
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Another more religious day of the dead celebration is the Hindu festival Mahalaya, which comes around late October or early November. The Mahalaya is a little different in that it is a more straightforward and purely religious time of year in which people pray for the souls of their loved ones to “rest until the next meeting with their descendants.” Families also pray to Durga to “keep the demons away and protect both the living and the dead,” reports Pin and Travel.
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All Saints Day, Spain, The Philippines
Because they were, after all, colonized by the Spanish for many years, it’s no surprise that the practice of All Saints Day is also practiced in the Philippines. Like the Mahalaya, All Saints Day is also a little more solemn. In both countries, relatives would visit their dead in cemeteries and bring flowers on their graves. But as the years go by, this tradition is slowly being injected more American aspects.
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At this point, you’d think all variants of the day of the dead celebrations happen at the same time every year, but Japan begs to differ. According to Musement blog, the Japanese “Obon” celebration falls on August and is translated to “lantern day.” During this time, people would hang lanterns in front of their houses to guide the spirits. At the end of the festival, these lanterns would then be released in lakes and seas.
Interestingly, this is not universal in all of Japan as the tradition varies from region to region.
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Barriletes Gigantes, Guatemala
In Guatemala, giant kites are flown on the first two days of November on what is called the Barriletes Gigantes celebration on Todos los Santos. In a corresponding report by CNN, this beautiful Guatemalan day of the dead tradition celebrates the dead with flying colors -- literally. Some of these kites are so big they can measure up to 40 feet in diameter and are sometimes “flown over graves of family members while flowers are strewn on the ground below.”