Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Saints Day - Book of Me

In El Salvador in 1978, Halloween (or All Hallows' Eve) was not celebrated.  The day of celebration was November 1:  All Saints' Day, or Dia de los Santos.  We were told it was celebrated as a holiday throughout the country. 

All Saints' Day was a happy day for the people of El Salvador because they believed that their dead children had become angels and were in Heaven with the saints.  Nearly every family had at least one little angel to remember and honor.  Though they missed and sorrowed over their little lost ones, they celebrated the child's place in Heaven.
Cross with wreath in Sociedad, El Salvador, decorated for All Saints' Day or Dia de los Santos On the morning of November first, we found vendors in the town square selling both fresh and paper flowers and greenery.  There were beautiful wreaths of fresh jasmine and other flowers.  There were equally beautiful bouquets of crepe paper flowers of all colors and kinds.  They had a beauty all their own because they had been very finely handcrafted by women in the village.

With arms full, there was a long, steady parade of people going to the graveyard that morning.  Families walked together -- all the families of the village, it seemed -- with their flowers and wreaths; with shovels, rakes, machetes, and other tools; with paint and paintbrushes.  At the cemetery they cleaned the gravesites and chopped the grass.  They repaired and painted the wooden crosses or put new ones on the graves.  Then they added the wreaths and flowers for their dear infant-angels.  Tears were shed, prayers offered, and memories shared while at the gravesites.

Going to the cemetery was a beautiful and unique experience, but we were to learn that All Saints' Day was not over and neither was the celebration.

Children with candles on church steps for All Saints Day or Dia de los Santos in Sociedad, El SalvadorThe children celebrated the evening of All Saints' Day by begging door to door for pennies or pieces of cooked squash.  They were happy to be given either.  The squash they ate.  The pennies they used to buy candles which they took to the entrance of the church and lit.  Taking turns, several children kept vigil with the lit candles while others continued to beg.  As candles burned low and went out, the children replaced them with new ones.  It was a beautiful sight.  There was a peaceful serenity, an unselfishness to the evening celebration of the children's own making.  As far as I could tell no adults were involved other than providing squash or pennies and keeping the little shops open to sell candles.  The families in the community were generally very poor and any celebration was looked upon with eagerness.

November 2 was Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Difuntos.  It was a much quieter day without celebration of any kind.  On this day they remembered the adult family members who had died by offering prayers in their behalf.  Prayers were needed because they didn't know if the adults had gone to Heaven or not. 

My childhood Halloweens were celebrated by dressing up in old clothes to look like a beggar, an old woman, an old man, etc.  There were no purchased costumes other than perhaps a mask, usually a black half-mask that covered the upper half of the face with holes for the eyes.  We went door to door to trick or treat carrying a paper bag.  The joy of Halloween was in having a bag of candy, a rare purchase at our house.  Always, whenever we knocked and the door was opened, the man or lady of the house insisted on guessing who we were.  If he or she couldn't guess, we had to take off our masks and show our faces.  If we weren't recognized we had to begin by saying our names and continuing with who our parents were and where we lived until the person at the door finally figured out our place in the village.  Of course the Ridge was such a small community that nearly everyone knew everyone else.

When I was very young I remember the teens of the neighborhood soaping windows and throwing dried kernels of corn onto the porch and at the windows.  It made such a clatter.   These tricks and the begging for treats often began a day or two before Halloween.

Halloween is my least favorite holiday and I don't celebrate it these days.  In fact I generally ignore it except for buying candy on sale.  I think the celebration in El Salvador changed my perspective.

This is another post in The Book of Me series, created by Julie Goucher of Anglers Rest.


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1 comment:

  1. That sounds a lot like the Halloweens I remember from my childhood except I lived in a HUGE community where I couldn't possibly visit every home. One year a lady set up her dining room to look all spooky with a witch's cauldron punchbowl. She dressed as a witch. We were invited in -- that was pretty cool and quite innovative for its time. Today several of my neighbors create little haunted rooms in their yard or garage. As for me, I'm the Grinch that stole Halloween. When young parents started bringing BABIES to my door, that was IT for me.


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