Ancient civilizations worshipped the day, the light, the creation, therefore life; and the night, the darkness, the destruction, therefore death.
Consequently, life was celebrated during spring and summer, luminous months where everything blooms, grows and expands. Autumn and winter, on the contrary, were dedicated to death, because they are months for harvest, for getting back home after war campaigns, for honoring those who are no longer amoung us.
4000 years B. C., the proto-Basque civilization that populated the Pyrenees from the Cerdanya to the Cantabrian, associated life with «Egunekoak», the day; and death with «Ganekoak», the night.
A millennium later, the Celts expanded into western Europe. In its calendar, the clear phase took place from the month of «Giamonios» (moon of April-May), while the dark phase began in the month of «Samonios» (moon of October-November). In this month took place the feast of «Samhain» (end of summer) where the harvest marked the end of the year. During the obscure season, humans were closer to darkness, to the spirit world. In their rituals, the druids communicated with the souls of the underworld in order to obtain useful information to guide them to pass from this life to the immortal one, while the living, waited for the visit of their deceased ones, who returned to visit their ancient homes.
Despite being very old traditions, the «Samhain» is still celebrated in some places along the peninsula, such as Galicia, where the magic of the Celtic culture is still very present in the day to day.
The transformation into a Catholic celebration
Due to the expansion of Christianity, Pope Gregory IV decided to unify ancestral practices under Christian standards and officially declared the All Saints Day on November 1st. This is the day to honor the departed saints who have attained holiness having previously overcome purgatory, have also been beatified and therefore enjoy eternal life.
The expansion of this Catholic celebration to the Indies
After the discovery of the new world, the Christian tradition universalized by Pope Gregory IV contacted with the indigenous beliefs of the cult of the dead, coming up with the celebration of the «Day of the Dead», being especially important among all Latin American countries in Mexico, where it has declared an intangible cultural heritage of humanity celebration since 2008.
The festival celebrated in the United States and spread in many countries nowadays, has its origins in the English tradition of the Celtic «Samhain» celebration.
The name comes from the expression: «All Hallow’s eve», celebrated therefore on October 31.
The traditional empied and decorated pumpkins are based on the English tradition, based on the same time on the Celtic one, which instead of pumpkins, emptied turnips and decorated them with candles.
Something similar happens with trick-or-treating from house to house. Since they were days where the spirits of the deceased were allowed to walk among the living and able to reunite with their relatives, the Celts sought to leave food outside their homes for the contentment of the good spirits and keep away the bad ones.
Be that as it may, in my tradition we celebrate the «Tosantos» day, which revolves around markets, seasonal products such as chestnuts, nuts, convent sweets such as bones of saint…
Walking through the market of Cadiz is a must. On November 1st eve, the merchants decorate the fish stalls by dressing them up with in a very funny way, recreating with them current affairs… Hilarious! This tradition began in the 19th century due to the massive influix of people from Cadiz to stock up on food before the holidays. It was then when they proposed to decorate the market and celebrate a dance enlivened with orchestra in the square. Over the years, a competition was held to reward the originality and creativity of shopkeepers who not only sell fish, but meat, vegetables, fruit and other supplies.
The next day of the “tosantos”, according to tradition, is the day to visit the cemetery to honor our deceased ones by cleaning and renewing the flowers of their graves, because as the saying goes: «nobody dies definitively as long as their memory lasts in the memory of the living».