If you ever meet the Devil on a dark road, don't try tricking him into climbing a tree.
Or else, you could end up like Irish folk figure Jack O'Lantern.
One night in a hamlet in Ireland, a conniving local drunk named Jack trapped the Prince of Darkness in a tree by hacking a sign of the cross into the bark. In exchange for allowing Satan to climb down, Jack made him promise to never claim his soul.
With nowhere to go, Jack took the blazing coal and placed it in a turnip to use as a lantern. The dead man then set out, doomed to wander until he could find an eternal resting place.
Which is why today on Hallowe’en Eve, we see Jack O’Lanterns everywhere. Jack is still searching for a resting place.
The history of Hallowe’en goes all the way back to a pagan festival called Samhain.
The word "Hallowe’en" comes from "All Hallows' Eve" and means "hallowed evening."
Hundreds of years ago, people dressed up as saints and went door to door, which is the origin of Hallowe’en costumes and trick-or-treating.
Ghosts are especially popular this night.
Meanwhile, across the ocean in Mexico, the faithful celebrate the Day of the Dead on November 1st. Skulls are a common sight.
Once upon a time, due to ignorance, I thought Day of the Dead festivities were somehow connected to North American Hallowe’en celebrations and All Saints’ Day.
Day of the Dead is the time Mexicans remember family and friends who have died. They visit the cemetery and leave food offerings shaped like skulls at the altar. Candles, incense and a picture of the dead person are part of these ceremonies. Parades to the cemetery by relatives of the deceased are common.
Veracruz, a large city, was festive, frenetic and alive when we arrived after a long day’s drive. We chose to eat at a popular outside dining area in a local plaza. Mariachi bands played while diners ate at the various restaurants.
Walking back to the hotel after our meal, we were met by enthusiastic revellers. Gathered around a festively decorated marble entrance, they invited us to join them. Once inside the hall, we realized the sheltered statues in a well-lit display were of Veracruz’s forefathers. Creative pieces of installation art and homemade shrines relating to the deceased leaders were placed before each statue.
Admiring the art and paraphernalia, we were suddenly serenaded with live music. Six female dancers, each wearing local finery, began to dance in a slow, mesmerizing rhythm. Each dancer’s black lace dress was adorned with brightly embroidered floral designs. Their upswept hair styles sparkled with interwoven strands of fresh flowers. Golden jewellery dangled from their ears and circled their necks and wrists.
A whiff of alcohol hung in the air. Of course, we accepted a glass of home brew.
This was how, in a foreign coastal city, we---a couple of gringo strangers---were warmly introduced to the Mexican traditional celebration of the Day of the Dead.
On these auspicious dates…
When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam, May luck be yours on Hallowe’en.
Remember and celebrate the Day of the Dead.