BROWNSVILLE, Texas — It is that time of the year again, Halloween. Images of colorful traditions and figures in various forms are conjured up in our civilized and uncivilized history. The Halloween we know today is nothing like it was in festivals that began in the 8th century.
The roots of Halloween are Celtic and the celebrations centered on the harvest. They centered on the differences between the equinox, the summer solstice and not the dead. The dead entered the picture in the 15th century because of the Roman Catholic order taking over Europe. The Celts merged with the Spaniards who brought those customs to the new world.
When we draw a picture of what was going on in the 17th century in the new world, we focus on Oaxaca, Mexico. The church had the goal of bringing Christianity to indigenous people, but those tribes had to make a bargain. They had to give up adultery and introduce Christianity. It was a hard sell and a lot of the native people did not find that appealing. The Spaniards made a consideration, they said ‘Okay you can have some of your festivals but it has to have a Christian tone’, hence you have the Day of the Dead. It cannot be looking at spirits that are coming up, it has to be honoring the dead, the dearly departed and that’s what that portion came to be.
In the Eastern seaboard of the United States was the birth of a similar tradition. It was more of a prankish type of thing. It was trick or treat, pumpkins and what we come to know, it was all of these elements that merged into this. The combination we have now as Dia de Muertos and Halloween is a mixture of different features and makes it very colorful.
In the days of colonization of Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley the festival was much more personal. There would have been people lined up in the day time with all types of picnic supplies honoring family members who died. They would come with paints, flowers, their lunches and camp on the burial site, spending the day with the spirits of the dearly departed.
One element we have to watch out for when we look into Halloween in the present day is that it goes a bit overboard. It deviates from the original intentions of the celebrations and its religious nature. The main focus is on the spirit of celebration of the dead, it should be a happy one. The focus is there is always a human element and the reverence for the dearly departed has to stay in the celebration.