This Christian religious holiday is indeed very old, it goes all the way back to the 6th century when Pope Boniface IV will dedicate the Pantheon of all the gods in Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Saints, thus celebrating all Saints known and unknown. It is believed that this new Christian Feast replaced the old Celtic Feast of Samain. Then on 2 November we celebrate all the Faithful who have died, friends, family members, etc I had my own family death this year, my father, and many of my friends also lost a parent. Then in September we buried by mother’s ashes. So this year La Toussaint has a deeper meaning for me.
This gave rise to the practice of cleaning graves and tombstones and placing flowers and candles on them. A very colourful practice in Poland where cemetery are ablaze with lights and flowers on that day and at night. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is equally colourful when elaborate flower displays, bread, fruits and candles are set upon graves of family members. Children are given sweets in the shape of skulls, skeletons and coffins to remind them that death comes to us all and you should not be afraid. I remember buying a special bread for that day, similar to a kind of sugary loaf with candied fruits, Pan de los Muertos. As a child I remember my mother telling me that when she was young the family would go to the cemetery to wash and clean the family tombstone, repaint the lettering on the monument and pray, unfortunately a tradition that has died today. The French painting below shows this annual visit to the cemetery.
La Toussaint, Emile Friant 1888
Halloween, All Hallows Eve, the eve of All Saints’ Day which we just celebrated in the present modern form has little to do with this ancient ritual. Samain a popular Irish Feast marking the longer nights with the approach of cold Winter and the association with death and Ghouls with the symbolism of the Jack O’Lantern appears in Canada around 1840 with large Irish and Scottish immigration. In French Canada the popularity of Halloween takes root around 1920. I miss the old more traditional ritual associated with old Celtic and early Christian beliefs.
Here are photos of my pumpkin this year which I placed on our balcony and was visible from the street. I left a big candle inside and it burned all night long.
Pumpkin by day and by night.