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  • Janet Radley

Off the Beaten Path - Halloween and Day of the Dead

Halloween is most closely associated, historically and culturally, with ancient customs of the Celts in Ireland. Over 2000 years ago the ancient Celts celebrated their new year on the 1st November. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest, and the start of winter.  This day was often associated with human death.  The Celts believed that the night prior to the new year (31st October) the boundary between the living world and the dead became blurred.  The Celts believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth and they celebrated with the festival of Samhain.  They believed the ghosts of the dead could damage their crops and cause trouble, but they also made it easier for the Druids to make their predictions.  The people relied the Druids’ predictions for all aspects of daily life.  The Druids built large sacred bonfires for the festival of Samhain where the Celts gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their gods.  They would dress in animal skins and heads and tell each other’s fortunes.  After the festival was over, they would relight their hearth fires from the sacred bonfires to help protect them during the winter.  In 43 ACE the Romans conquered the Celts and ruled them for 400 years.  During that time the festival of Samhain was combined with two Roman festivals, Feralia a day in late October that was to commemorate the passing of the dead.  The second was to honour Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol was the apple.  This is where the tradition of bobbing for apples is to believe to have come from.  Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honour of all Christian martyrs and on the 13th May 609 ACE the feast of All Martyrs was established in the Western church.  Later Pope Gregory III included all the saints as well as all the martyrs and moved the date from 13th May to the 1st of November.  By the 9th century Christianity had come the Celtic lands and the Christian festivals began to blend with and supplanted the older Celtic rites.  In 1000 ACE the church made 2nd of November All Souls’ Day to honour the dead, many believe this was the church replacing the festival of Samhain with a church approved festival.  All Souls’ Day was also celebrated with large bonfires, parades as well as the people dressing up as saints, angels and devils.  All Souls’ Day was all so called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day).  The traditional night of Samhain (31st October) began to be called All-Hallows Eve until it became Halloween. Following is five places to spend Halloween. Ireland is the home of Halloween so why not go and visit Derry City, Ireland to celebrate the holiday.  The Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival is nine days, and you can take in all things spooky.  Parades, fireworks, ghost tours, and haunted houses.  Bob for apples try your hand a carving a scary pumpkin or take in an outdoor market.  There is face painting, movies, and a fun farm for the children.  On the 31st of October take in the famous carnival parade followed by amazing fireworks. People say The White Horse Hotel in Derry is haunted.  It has been reported a full formed stagecoach comes along Clooney Road and stops outside the hotel and the portly driver disembarks and enters the hotel and then disappears.

Salem Massachusetts is best known for the witch trails that went from February 1692 until May 1693 and is one of the top haunted cities in the US.  Halloween is celebrated for the entire month of October so if you can’t be there for the 31st of October you can still experience the holiday.  Visit the Salem Witch Museum and learn of the 26 people who died from the witch trails.  Go see the House of Seven Gables. the oldest wooden mansion in New England built in 1688 and made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne author of The Scarlet Letter.  Go on ghost walks and visit haunted houses, seances, and watch fireworks.  Go also to the Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball.  Don’t forgot to take in the Haunted Happenings Grand Parade.  Hawthorn Hotel was built on the apple orchard owned by Bridget Bishop who was one of the first women executed during the witch trails.  Guest have reported smelling apples even though they are not on the menu.  Room 621 is one of the most haunted rooms in the hotel, people have seen a woman wandering the hall outside the room often stopping in front of the room.  People have said they feel uneasy as if someone is in the room with them.  Room 325 has had reports of lights and faucets turning on and off.  There have also been reports of a baby crying.  The hotel restaurant has a large wheel which turns around as if controlled by a long dead seafarer.

In Mexico there is a national holiday called el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) which is celebrated from the 31st of October until the 2nd of November.  This festival is a blend of Mesoamerican rituals, European religion and Spanish Culture It is not Halloween as some people believe.  There are some traditions that are share between el Dia de los Muertos and Halloween such as parades and costumes.  While the 31st of October is Halloween the 1st of November is el Dia de los inocentes or the day of the children and all Saints Day.  So, at midnight on the 31st of October the gates of heaven open and spirits of the children can rejoin their families for 24 hours.  The 2nd of November is the All Souls’ Day, and this is the day adults can rejoin their families for 24 hours.  On these days the souls of the dead return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with their loved ones.  The families of the dead leave their deceased’s favorite food and other offerings at the gravesites or at a alter in their home.  Candles and marigolds and red cock’s combs decorate the gravesite or alters alongside the food.  Skeletons and skulls are prominent symbols. In the 19th century Jose Guadalupe Posada, a cartoonist re-envisioned Mictecacihuatl.  She is the Aztec goddess of the underworld and he envisioned her as a female skeleton known as La Calavera Catrina and she is now the most recognizable Day of the Dead icon.  Now people commonly wear skull masks and eat sugar candy molded in to the shape of a skull. Oaxaca Mexico is one of the best places in Mexico to go and celebrate the Day of the Dead.  Ropes of marigold flowers appear on many of the streets.  As Oaxaca has a flourishing art scene you will see sand tapestries in front of many of the alters.  Take in the traditional parades which include costumed performers and marching bands that wind their way through the city. This is some of the history of these 2 holidays and a few places to go to celebrate them.

Pan de Muertos (Mexican Bread of the Dead)


  • ¼ cup margarine

  • ¼ cup milk

  • ¼ cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 2 teaspoons anise seed

  • ¼ cup white sugar

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • 2 teaspoons orange zest

  • ¼ cup white sugar

  • ¼ cup orange juice

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

  • 2 tablespoons white sugar

Directions Step 1

Heat the milk and the butter together in a medium saucepan, until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add them warm water. The mixture should be around 110 degrees F (43 degrees C).

Step 2

In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Beat in the warm milk mixture then add the eggs and orange zest and beat until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of flour and continue adding more flour until the dough is soft.

Step 3

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

Step 4

Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 to 2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape it into a large round loaf with a round knob on top. Place dough onto a baking sheet, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until just about doubled in size.

Step 5

Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven for about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven let cool slightly then brush with glaze.

Step 6 To make glaze: In a small saucepan combine the 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over top of bread while still warm. Sprinkle glazed bread with white sugar. Tips You may substitute 1/2 teaspoon anise extract for the anise seeds. Janet Radley // Helen Thompson Travel // Telephone: 416 967 4404 ext. 134

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