How Did All Saints Day Celebrations Started?
All Saints Day is coming! And we believe it’s a great moment to explore its history and origins.
In the U.S. and other countries, Halloween is the most important celebration in October. However, in Spanish-speaking countries, el Día de Todos los Santos, or All Saints Day, is even more important.
Knowing the history of this Latin American celebration up close will help you deeply understand its cultural and religious meaning.
So, if you’re a cultural enthusiast and are curious about our continent’s traditions and different cultures, read on!
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Importance of All Saints Day for Spanish-Speaking Countries
Every year, people across Latin America celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st. This celebration is also known as the Day of the Dead or All Souls’ Day.
This date, especially for Spanish-speaking countries, is significant, and each country celebrates it in different ways, with various rituals and traditions.
This celebration unites an entire region since the countries that celebrate it have a very religious culture and a strong family dynamic passed from generation to generation.
As we know, in Latin American culture, the family is essential in its traditions and is the center of all the celebrations.
Even in some countries, such as Guatemala, families prepare for this big day long in advance. Later, we will describe those ancestral traditions you have surely already seen in videos, movies, or social media.
Let’s get started!
What Are the Origins of All Saints Day?
The origin of this celebration is of a Catholic religious nature and dates back to almost 1,300 years ago.
Originally, All Saints’ Day was celebrated on May 13th, a date proclaimed by Pope Boniface IV in 609 when he named the Pantheon in Rome as a church in honor of all the martyrs.
The current date, November 1st, was established by Pope Gregory III when he decided to name a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to honor all the Saints.
And although, at that time, it was a unique celebration for Rome, Pope Gregory IV ordered that it be made official so that the entire church could celebrate it.
It’s believed that November 1st was chosen because it coincided with a festival of the Germanic peoples that the church considered pagan and that should be eradicated.
This date was thought initially so that all Saints would be venerated at least one day every year. Catholics used to go to chapels, churches, or cathedrals to contemplate the images of the Saints on display.
It’s decided to display the relics of the saints so that they can be worshiped in a particular way by bringing them candles, flowers, and special prayers.
According to Catholic tradition, this day is holy, so Catholics must attend mass unless prevented by illness or other suitable excuse.
Also, on this day, it’s special to commemorate all the Saints who have not been canonized and who do not have a particular celebration in the Catholic Church.
It means that on All Saints’ Day, the best-known Saints are mentioned, and also those whose holiness is known only to God and who are considered to have reached heaven.
This is why people get confused.
So, to be more specific, originally, people celebrated the Saints of the Catholic Church on November 1st, and the Catholic celebration of the Day of the Dead or All Souls’ Day was on November 2nd.
But hang on!
Evolution of the All Saints’ Day Celebrations
Due to how the Catholic and religious community has received the celebration of All Saints’ Day, and that cultures evolve according to the times and their needs, the festivities have also changed.
As we mentioned previously, November 1st was intended to be an exclusive celebration to celebrate the Saints of the Catholic Church.
However, because it was a day before All Souls’ Day in Latin American countries, both holidays gradually merged, and the first day of November is the official day to remember and celebrate their dead.
This is how the tradition of visiting cemeteries, bringing flowers, and decorating the graves of deceased relatives or very dear friends was born.
The objective is not to mourn the departure of a loved one but quite the opposite, to celebrate that they have reached eternal life and are still present in our hearts.
Currently, the celebrations in each Latin American country are filled with colors, traditions, typical foods, parades, rituals, and lots of flowers.
So, let’s take a tour of the unique customs and traditions in various Spanish-speaking countries in their All Saints’ Day celebrations.
All Saints’ Day Traditions in Spanish-Speaking Countries
Most Latin American countries share the same traditions for All Saints’ Day.
Families get up early and visit their deceased loved ones in the cemeteries.
They bring all kinds of flowers to decorate the graves and, in some cases, even repaint the graves to have a different color each year.
In some countries, such as Venezuela, Colombia, and Nicaragua, they usually bring food and drinks to share after decorating the tomb and praying.
Spain has different celebrations in several of the important cities.
In Galicia, the Basque Country or Catalonia, it’s customary to walk through the countryside streets to participate in the traditional Castañada, where families and friends gather to eat roasted chestnuts.
In the Canary Islands, they celebrate the Finaos festival in homes where the family gathers around the table and tells anecdotes about their beloved deceased.
In Begígar, the city’s citizens cover the locks on the house doors with gacha to scare away evil spirits.
In Peru, the activities begin on November 1st at 7:00 at night when families visit their deceased in the cemeteries.
During that visit, they offer prayers for the souls of the deceased, light candles, and pour holy water on their graves.
The next day, the entire Peruvian population visits the cemeteries massively, again bringing candles, holy water, and flowers.
Other families bring instruments to sing to their deceased or hire musical groups working in the cemeteries to play a couple of songs to the families that pay them.
Another tradition is to prepare and place offerings for the deceased. In Peru, they believe that at midnight, from November 1st to 2nd, the spirits of the dead return to earth to enjoy their favorite meal.
That is why people set up a table and prepare with all the foods, sweets, fruits, and liquor preferred by the deceased.
People additionally spread ashes on the floor to observe the next day if the deceased actually arrived, and then they closed it so no one enters.
In Ecuador, offerings are also taken to cemeteries to celebrate the memory of the deceased family or friends.
When visiting cemeteries, it’s customary to wear clothes in purple tones and decorate with those colors since they represent mourning.
In some regions of the country, people even carry weapons, jewelry, and valuable objects to place in the graves of the deceased.
One of the most important characteristics of this date in Ecuador is the food since they prepare traditional dishes on this day.
According to ancient tradition, the famous guagua bread is prepared as an offering in a ritual that suggests a reunion with the ancestors. This typical sweet is shaped like a baby; guagua means baby in the Quichua language.
People also prepare a special drink that they only have during this time of year. Colada morada is a drink prepared with black corn flour, pineapple, raspberries, blackberries, and sweet herbs.
This Central American country has several relevant traditions, and it’s known for its colorful and very particular celebrations.
One of those is the traditional flight of giant kites. Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepequez are the villages that started this fantastic activity.
According to history and tradition, kites were created to carry messages to the souls of deceased family members and friends. By flying the kites, the messages would be delivered in the sky.
This tradition, with 124 years of existence, is proudly passed down from generation to generation and is prepared many months in advance, from planting the bamboo to designing and creating the 20-meter-high kites.
Another Guatemalan tradition on All Saints’ Day is the Carrera de las Ánimas held in Todos Santos Cuchumatanes in Huehuetenango.
The riders dress in their ceremonial clothing and, from the night before, they must drink liquor as part of the Mayan ritual performed before mounting the horse and defying death.
This activity is carried out because, at the time of the conquest, the residents of this place challenged the Spanish and rebelled, showing them that they could also ride horses. This was also a way of opposing colonization.
The day before, October 31st, the racers leave for Totonicapán, where they get a chest, sacrifice a rooster, and offer its blood to ask Mother Earth for permission to participate in the race.
In Mexico, they also take this celebration very seriously. In 2008, the indigenous holiday of the Day of the Dead was proclaimed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In pre-Hispanic times, the cult of death was one of the most important elements of culture.
The deceased were buried wrapped in a mat, and their relatives organized a party to guide them on the journey to Mictlán, the place in another dimension where the dead rest.
El Día de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead in the indigenous celebration, means the return of the souls of the deceased to the world of the living to share with their family and nourish themselves with the food offered on their altars.
On October 28th, families begin to prepare the room where they’ll place the altar decorated with marigold flowers, chopped paper, incense, sugar skulls, bread of the dead, and a favorite dish of the deceased.
As the tradition says, it’s vital to scatter flower petals and candles to trace the path the souls will travel so they don’t get lost and can reach their destination.
In ancient times, this path led from the family home to the tomb where their loved ones rested.
It is truly a priceless and breathtaking tradition!
Get Closer to Latin Traditions Learning Spanish!
The culture of Spanish-speaking countries has endless fascinating traditions that you will love!
Each country is full of activities, beliefs, and ancestral history that nourishes the daily life of Latin American society.
By knowing the details of this celebration, why they hold horse races in Guatemala, or why it’s crucial to make altars, you’ll learn to value the richness of other cultures.
An easy way to understand and live these traditions better is by learning the official language of these countries, Spanish.
By speaking Spanish fluently, you’ll have a better connection with other cultures and the people living in those countries. You’ll understand the messages and meanings of rituals and customs.
At Homeschool Spanish Academy, we have a team of native Guatemalan teachers who will teach you more about their country and other Latin American countries while you learn Spanish.
So, let us help you to learn this beautiful language!
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