St. Basil’s Day, January 1st, commemorates the day in which (it’s believed) Basil of Caesarea died. The Festival of Saint Basil is the Greek New Year.
In Greek tradition, Basil brings gifts to children every January 1. Children leave their shoes by the fireplace in hopes that St. Basil will fill them with gifts. A large feast is prepared, the larger the luckier the year will be. Pork is usually the main dish. It is customary on his feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing New Year’s carols, and to set an extra place at the table for Saint Basil.
Traditionally Vasilopita or Vaselopita, a special bread or cake, is baked on St. Basil’s Day Eve, and served at midnight. The cake is handed out in a particular order. The first piece is for the remembrance of St. Basil and the second is for the household. Those pieces are taken to the church to be blessed, then given to the poor. The rest of the slices are distributed from the eldest member of the household to the youngest.
A coin or trinket is hidden inside the cake, and the person who gets the piece with the hidden treasure will have luck in the coming year.
Vasilopita | St. Basil’s Bread
Make sure everyone knows a quarter is hidden in the cake so they search for it and do not choke on it.
- 1 cup butter, unsalted
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 6 eggs
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup warm milk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- zest of 1 orange
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- a clean quarter
Preheat oven to 350F. Generously grease a 10-inch round cake pan. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix until mealy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
In a separate bowl, combine baking powder, baking soda, milk, lemon juice, and zests. Mix into the batter, then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts and sugar. Bake 40-45 minutes. Gently push a quarter into the cake. Cool 10 minutes. Invert cake onto platter. Serve warm.
A Feast Day Prayer to Saint Basil
Saint Basil, O great follower of God, help all as well as me. Defender of orthodoxy, defend us too. Great follower of God, pray to him for all your people, as well as for unworthy me. Strong knight and leader of Ostrog, save us from the seen and unseen. Raised by Serbian soil to be the light in front of God, be our light and light up our road, and make the darkness disappear.
With prayer and tears you have warmed the cold cliffs of Ostrog, please warm our hearts with God’s spirit, so we can be saved. From all corners of the world to your grave come the weak and the ill, and you helped them, got rid of their demons as well as the devil, and healed their souls and bodies.
Please continue to help, the baptized and the nonbaptized, everybody and me as well. You brought peace to fighting brothers, please continue to bring peace, help the divided, make the sad happy, calm the stubborn, heal the sick. Saint Basil, O miracle worker, father of our spirit, listen and hear your children’s spirits in the name of Jesus Christ.
About Saint Basil
Basil, being born into a wealthy family, gave away all his possessions to the poor, the underprivileged, those in need, and children. For Greeks and others in the Orthodox tradition, Basil is the saint associated with Santa Claus as opposed to the western tradition of St Nicholas
St. Basil, also called Saint Basil the Great, is one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church and a forefather of the Greek Orthodox Church. St. Basil was born in the year 329 or 330 and died in the year 379. He is the Patron of Russia, Cappadocia, hospital administrators, reformers, monks, education, exorcism, and liturgists.
Basil’s life changed radically after he encountered Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic. Abandoning his legal and teaching career, Basil devoted his life to God. In a letter he described his spiritual awakening:
I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world.
Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese.
His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes. They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for holy orders. He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice. At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations.
In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad, which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was compared by Gregory of Nazianzus to the wonders of the world.
His three hundred letters reveal a rich and observant nature, which, despite the troubles of ill-health and ecclesiastical unrest, remained optimistic, tender and even playful. His principal efforts as a reformer were directed towards the improvement of the liturgy, and the reformation of the monastic institutions of the East.
There are numerous relics of Basil throughout the world. One of the most important is his head, which is preserved to this day at the monastery of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos in Greece. The mythical sword Durandal is said to contain some of Basil’s blood.
Some Great St Basil Quotes
I really love some of these quotes. They are surprisingly applicable to modern life. Enjoy!
Alternative St Basil Feast Days
According to some sources, Basil died on January 1, and the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day together with that of the Feast of the Circumcision on that day. This was also the day on which the General Roman Calendar celebrated it at first; but in the 13th-century it was moved to June 14, a date believed to be that of his ordination as bishop, and it remained on that date until the 1969 revision of the calendar, which moved it to January 2 (rather than January 1) because the latter date is occupied by the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
On January 2 Saint Basil is celebrated together with Saint Gregory Nazianzen. Some traditionalist Catholics continue to observe pre-1970 calendars.
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod commemorates Basil, along with Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa on January 10.
The Church of England celebrates Saint Basil’s feast on January 2, but the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada celebrate it on June 14.
In the Byzantine Rite, January 30 is the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs, in honor of Saint Basil, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria celebrates the feast day of Saint Basil on the 6th of Tobi (6th of Terr on the Ethiopian calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church). At present, this corresponds to January 14, January 15 during leap year.
There is not a lot of information about this particular feast day and the dates given for it vary widely. Our calendar lists it as January 30 – 31, but some calendars assign it to January 17 – 18, others say April 18 – 19, May 26, July 9 – 10, or October 13. None of these calendars have any information other than that it is called “Feast of Charities” for the Greek goddesses known as the Graces. I don’t think anyone really knows much about it.
I did find a Feast of the Charities Ritual at Llewellyn. Here it is:
- Color of the day: Orange
- Incense of the day: Sage
Today is the Feast of the Charities. These old Greek goddesses of beneficence were known to the Romans as the Gratiae, or “Graces.” They are Aglaea, whose name means “splendor,” Euphrosyne, or “joy,” and Thalia, or “mirth.” The Charities bestow charm, beauty, and creativity on their worshipers. In this regard they serve a similar purpose to the nine Muses. Generosity and festive activities please these goddesses.
- Get some friends together and dress up.
- Arrange each other’s hair.
- Dance and sing, or perform some sacred theater.
- Visit an art gallery or walk through a street fair.
Alternatively, do something nice for the less fortunate. Bundle up old clothes you never wear anymore to recycle for the less fortunate, or hold a food drive and donate the results to a local charity. (Yes, the term comes from the name of these goddess, “Charities.”) You could also donate your money or time. Give of yourself, and you shall receive “grace” from the Charities in return. Be kind and giving, and your creativity will overflow!
Thousands of working class Bolivians crowd the streets of La Paz every year to buy miniature cars, houses and wads of fake dollar bills representing their dreams of wealth.
Alasitas is a 3-week long fair that, in La Paz, takes place beginning on the 24th of January and in Santa Cruz takes place in September. “Alasitas” is an Aymaran word that means “buy me”, and is the name of the annual fair where people buy miniature items that represent things they hope to attain within the year.
Alasitas is often referred to as the festival of miniatures, as the capital city of La Paz turns into a large market of small things that may become big if you know who to ask. Locals come and buy anything from tiny mobile phones, laptops, cars, and houses, to non-material things like love in the form of a male or female doll, or even matrimony in a form of a marriage certificate.
The festival is held in honor of the indigenous “god of bounty” or “abundance” called Ekeko (sometimes spelled Ekkekko, or Ekkeko). He is often rendered as a short, pudgy, mustached man who wears traditional Andean clothes and carries baskets of grains. Tiny items, from kitchen appliances to college diplomas, are taken home and placed around Ekeko, who the Aymara people believe will bless them with better lives in the coming year.
Hundreds accompany the Bolivian deity statuette “illa of Ekeko” as it is driven to the Alasitas Fair. Andean religious leaders carry urns with burning incense in a procession of the Bolivian deity statuette “illa of Ekeko” as it is driven to the Fair. The pre-Columbian figurine that symbolizes abundance was recently returned to Bolivia by the National Museum of Berna in Switzerland, 156 years after being taken away from its native country.
Images of Ekeko and other items, such as imitation bank notes are blessed during the festivities. The Ekeko statuette is traditionally given a cigarette, sprinkled with alcohol and surrounded with all the miniature items bought at the Alasitas Fair “so our wishes come true that year.”
Many bring their diminished dreams to the statues of Ekkekko they store at home, light a cigarette for he is known as a great smoker, dedicate a few prayers, and then wait for the miraculous gifts which will come within the next year.
Ekeko is the household god and it is not unusual for Bolivians to have a representation of this short and chubby, happy-looking fellow with a mustache and dressed in Andean clothes in their home. To ensure good luck the statue should be received as a gift and not be personally bought. Ekeko brings wealth to the family and keeps misfortune at bay.
To obtain the favor of fortune, Bolivians like to present Ekeko with miniatures – mostly made of a sugary substance – of things they would like to own. This can be a house, a car, furniture, clothes, an airplane but also food. A miniature passport may be bought if one has the wish to travel, a university diploma in case one wants to study or when graduation is near.
Perfectly copied miniature dollar and euro notes are favored over local bolivianos when a devotee wants wealth. Ekeko loves smoking, his statue has a special hole in the mouth for a cigarette.
During Alasitas, the streets are crammed with people who need to buy their miniatures replicas in time – the blessings will take place around noon and they should be prepared by then.
Locals claim if you really believe in miracles, you will get what you want, and many testify it truly works.
Alasitas’ main divinity is Ekeko, but Catholic priests give their blessing to the newly acquired miniature goods as well, while simultaneously honoring the Virgin of La Paz. Whereas the Franciscans focus on the Virgin, the yatiris – the local wizards – focus on Ekeko; the average Bolivian cares about both.
There is not one conclusive theory about how and where the festival started. In the Aymará language, alasitas means ‘buy from me’ and in pre-colonial times Alasitas was always celebrated in September (Bolivian springtime), to ensure a good crop. It is said that the Spanish changed the date to January 24 in commemoration of an indigenous uprising in 1781 and the siege of La Paz by Tupac Katari.
During the colonization the Spanish tried to force Catholicism on the indigenous people. They partly succeeded and many Bolivians converted to Catholicism, however, in reality the Bolivian religion became a mix of Catholicism and traditional Andean beliefs and rituals, which is easily recognized during, for instance, Alasitas.
January 1st is Apple Gifting Day. This unusual food holiday of unknown origin is a nice way to start the new year. Up until the 17th century, apple was a generic term for fruit other than berries. The apple symbolizes many things such as love, knowledge, bounty, good heath, beauty, and rebirth. One possible meaning behind giving an apple is to wish the recipient good health and a fruitful year. Give apples to friends and family. There are over 7,000 types of apples, so look for a new variety to give out each year.
From The Wisdom of Trees by Jane Gifford, we have this:
The apple teaches the lesson of love and faith, generosity and gratitude. Love not just between man and woman but as the driving force behind our existence and the relationships that we share with others; faith both in ourselves and in others; and generosity and trust in the understanding that a heart that is open to give and receive is both the gateway to personal happiness and fulfillment and the key that unlocks the secrets of the Otherworld.
The generous apple satisfies body, mind, and spirit, and warns against miserliness, for like attracts like. What we give will be the measure of all we receive.
In ancient Roman culture, felicitas is a condition of divinely inspired productivity, blessedness, or happiness. Felicitas could encompass both a woman’s fertility, and a general’s luck or good fortune. The divine personification of Felicitas was cultivated as a goddess.
Although felicitas may be translated as “good luck,” and the goddess Felicitas shares some characteristics and attributes with Fortuna, the two were distinguished in Roman religion. Fortuna was unpredictable and her effects could be negative, as the existence of an altar to Mala Fortuna (“Bad Luck”) acknowledges. Felicitas, however, always had a positive significance.
In Ancient Rome
Felicitas had a temple in Rome as early as the mid-2nd century BC, and during the Republican era was honored at two official festivals of Roman state religion, on July 1 in conjunction with Juno and October 9 as Fausta Felicitas.
Felicitas continued to play an important role in Imperial cult, and was frequently portrayed on coins as a symbol of the wealth and prosperity of the Roman Empire. Her primary attributes are the caduceus and cornucopia. The English word “felicity” derives from felicitas.
On July 1 and October 9, Felicitas received a sacrifice in Capitolio, on the Capitoline Hill, on the latter date as Fausta Felicitas in conjunction with the Genius Publicus and Venus Victrix. These observances probably took place at an altar or small shrine, not a separate temple precinct.
The Acts of the Arval Brothers (1st century AD) prescribe a cow as the sacrifice for Felicitas. Pompey established a shrine for Felicitas at his new theater and temple complex, which used the steps to the Temple of Venus Victrix as seating. Felicitas was cultivated with Honor and Virtue, and she may have shared her shrine there with Victory, as she did in the Imperial era as Felicitas Caesaris (Caesar’s Felicitas) at Ameria.
Celebrating Felicitas Today:
“Felicitas’ themes are kindness, charity, love, romance, joy, success and luck. Her symbols are greetings (greeting cards). This Roman Goddess brings happiness, success, and good fortune whenever someone salutes another with good words or amiable deeds. She comes to us today to energize late fall and early winter with the transformational power of kindness.
Her festival day gives us an opportunity to shower anyone and everyone with cheerful trinkets, kind acts, and gentle words to lift people’s spirits. By looking for Felicitas for help, we can bring joy to people who might otherwise be feeling a case of autumn blues.
Here is an idea:
Look for, or make, some humorous greeting cards to send to folks you know would appreciate the thought. Lay your hands on them and invoke Felicitas’s blessings in any way that feels right.
To improve the effect further, anoint the cards with rejuvenating aromatic oils that match the recipient’s needs (such as pine for money, rose for love or peace, cinnamon for luck, sandalwood for health, and lavender to combat depression). This way, when they open that card, the magic and the aroma will be released together to bless, energize, and bear Felicitas’s greetings along with your heartfelt wishes!”
Sources: 365 Goddess, and Wikipedia
Santa Claus may have gone back to the North Pole to rest, but it doesn’t mean the gift-giving (and receiving) is over — at least not for the thousands of children in Latin America and Spain anxiously awaiting“El Día de los Reyes” Celebration on Jan. 6th.
- Children leave their shoes right outside their doors so the Three Kings will leave their gifts inside, the bigger presents are placed around them.
- Many families leave a box of grass (or hay) and water for The Three King’s camels to eat. Similar to the tradition of leaving out cookies and milk for Santa Claus. Camels are known for being a bit sloppy and leaving a trail of hay behind that children can often follow to their gifts!
- Hispanic families will usually celebrate Three Kings Day with a scrumptious dinner that is topped off with the King’s Bread (Rosca de Reyes) for dessert. Children also sometimes make crowns to wear at the table in honor of the kings.
For many Christians, the holiday season doesn’t officially end until the 12th day of Christmas known as the “Feast of the Epiphany” or “Three Kings’ Day”.
The holiday marks the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the three Kings, also referred to as three Wise Men or Magi. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the men found the divine child by following a star across the desert for twelve days to Bethlehem. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar — representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa respectively — traveled by horse, camel, and elephant in order to present baby Jesus with three symbolic gifts.
The gold offered by one of the wise men is a symbolic acknowledgment of Jesus’ royal standing as “King of the Jews,” while the frankincense manifests the divine nature of the baby’s existence, since he is not an earthly king but the Son of God. And finally the myrrh, often used to embalm corpses, was gifted to the newborn as a symbol of Jesus’ mortality — foreshadowing his death as a means to cleanse humanity of its sins.
Reyes festivities come in different shapes and sizes across the globe from community parades to three-day celebrations at Disneyland. In Mexico, thousands gather every year to taste a mile-long “Rosca de Reyes” (Kings’ Bread) while others simply make the holiday staple at home honoring the tradition to hide a baby Jesus figurine within the bread — the person whose slice has the figurine must prepare tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles on Feb. 2!
Source: Huffington Post
In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus.
In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy and in particular rural Sicily, a stick in a stocking was placed instead of coal. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.
Befana is invoked in many Italian spells, especially those for good fortune. She brings sweets for children but may be persuaded to bring the sweetness of life to adults as well.
- On Epiphany Eve, write her a note expressing your desires.
- Place it beneath a red witch-shaped candle and burn.
- Accompany with offerings.
She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both. Popular tradition tells that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn’t wish to be seen. This aspect of the tradition may be designed to keep children in their beds.
She is also referred to as the Christmas Witch. Continue reading
In Japan, January 1st is the Shichi Fukujin, the Celebration of the Seven Deities of Luck.
Shichi Fukujin is usually translated as “Seven Spirits of Good Fortune,” but literally means “Seven Happiness Beings.” Six are male and one is female (Benten). Each is an important, powerful spirit. They hail from different traditions. Unlike the comparable Seven African Powers, they do not all derive from the same spiritual base. Some are Shinto, some Buddhist; Hotei originally derives from Chinese Taoist traditions, but wherever they came from, all are now significant to Japanese folk religion.
Each of the Shichi Fukujin is venerated independently. Some are also venerated in smaller groupings. (Daikoku and Ebisu are frequently paired.) They are most frequently depicted all together sailing in their treasure ship, the Takarabune. The Seven Spirits provide blessings of health, h appiness, protection, and longevity and everything that is good and desirable in life. If invoked together they are able to provide all blessings.
The Shichi Fukujin are:
- Benton: goddess of love, music, eloquence, fine arts
- Bishamonten: god of happiness and long life
- Daikoku: god of prosperity
- Ebisu: patron of work
- Fukurokujo: god of happiness and long life
- Hotei Osho: god of good fortune
- Jurojin: god of longevity and happy old age
The seven sail into our realm during New Year’s festivities to distribute gifts to the worthy. Place an image of the treasure ship complete with all Shichi Fukujin under your pillow on New Year’s Eve to receive a lucky dream.
Their imagery is ubiquitous in Japan, extending even as far as on children’s undewear. Next time you’re in a Japanese restaurant, look around: it’s likely that you’ll find the Shichi Fukujin in residence. Envision yourself cruising along with them, and beseech their blessings.
Shichi Fukujin sushi is a beautiful roll containing seven smaller rolls.
Iconography: Many prints and sculptures depict the seven sailing on their treasure ship on the Sea of Good Fortune. Individual alter images are also available.
Sacred sites: A pilbramage route in Kamakura, Japan, involves visiting seven shrines, each associated with one of the Shichi Fukujin.
From: Encyclopedia of Spirits
This holiday, celebrated on Dec 26, derives from the Old English custom of giving Christmas “boxes” to tradesmen, postmen, and servants. The original boxes were usually made of earthenware and contained money, which could be retrieved only by breaking the boxes open. These days, a gift of money is usually contained in a greeting card and given before the holiday. Where celebrated (Great Britain, Canada, and Australia), Boxing Day is welcomed as a quiet day of recuperation from the season’s hectic festivities. It is also the biggest day of the year for soccer playoffs.
Honoring the dead occurs in ancient cultures all over the world, and even in modern times it plays an important role in religions. It is founded on the belief that the dead live on and are able to influence the lives of later generations. These ancestors can assert their powers by blessing or cursing, and their worship is inspired by both respect and fear. Rituals consist of praying, presenting gifts, and making offerings. In some cultures, people try to get their ancestors’ advice through oracles before making important decisions.
The dead are believed by the peasantry of many Catholic countries to return to their former homes on All Souls’ Night and partake of the food of the living. In Tyrol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls. In Bolivia, many people believe that the dead eat the food that is left out for them. Some claim that the food is gone or partially consumed in the morning.
The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and other countries can be traced back to the indigenous peoples such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mexican, Aztec, Maya, P’urhépecha, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.
The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the “Lady of the Dead,” corresponding to the modern Catrina.
In most regions of Mexico, November 1st honors deceased children and infants where as deceased adults are honored on November 2nd. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1st mainly as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) but also as “Día de los Angelitos” (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2nd as “Día de los Muertos” or “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Dead).
Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People will go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and will build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, and photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.
Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of November 1 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigolds called “cempasúchitl.” In modern Mexico this name is often replaced with the term “Flor de Muerto” (“Flower of the Dead”). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.
Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”) or sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the “spiritual essence” of the ofrenda food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.
Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes. These altars usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, and scores of candles. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing so when they dance the dead will wake up because of the noise. Some will dress up as the deceased.
Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.
Those with writing talent sometimes create short poems, called “calaveras” (“skulls”), mocking epitaphs of friends, sometimes describing interesting habits and attitudes or some funny anecdotes. This custom originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, “and all of us were dead”, proceeding to “read” the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.
Island Pacanda, Lake Patzcuaro Mexico – Dia de los MuertosA common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for “skeleton”), and foods such as sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.
José Guadalupe Posada created a famous print of a figure that he called “La Calavera de la Catrina” (“calavera of the female dandy”), as a parody of a Mexican upper class female. Posada’s striking image of a costumed female with a skeleton face has become associated with the Day of the Dead, and Catrina figures often are a prominent part of modern Day of the Dead observances.
The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. For example, in the town of Pátzcuaro on the Lago de Pátzcuaro in Michoacán the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child’s death, the godparents set a table in the parents’ home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a Rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child’s life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for “butterfly”) to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.
In contrast, the town of Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos opens its doors to visitors in exchange for ‘veladoras‘ (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently dead. In return, the visitors receive tamales and ‘atole‘. This is only done by the owners of the house where somebody in the household has died in the previous year. Many people of the surrounding areas arrive early to eat for free and enjoy the elaborate altars set up to receive the visitors from ‘Mictlán‘.
In some parts of the country, children in costumes roam the streets, asking passersby for a calaverita, a small gift of money; they don’t knock on people’s doors.
Some people believe that possessing “dia de los muertos” items can bring good luck. Many people get tattoos or have dolls of the dead to carry with them. They also clean their houses and prepare the favorite dishes of their deceased loved ones to place upon an altar.
Collected from various sources.
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