Day of the Dead in the world – celebrations, public holidays, and beliefs
All Saints' Day, falling in Poland on November 1st is a time of reflection and visiting deceased relatives at the graveyards. It's a public holiday when people can spend time with their families. But is the day of death the same everywhere?
When running an international organization, it is worth knowing when your employees celebrate their public holidays and special occasions. Thanks to this it's easy to define when they will be absent at work.
Check how the celebration of the day of the dead looks like in different parts of the world and find out if they are public holidays for your international team.
Poland – All Saints' Day
Polish day of death is called All Saints' Day and it's celebrated in honor of Christians who achieved salvation and have a place in heaven. It came to Poland with the catholic religion. According to its doctrine, it's an expression of faith in saints.
Due to the celebrations churches organize a special mass. Poles visit the cemetery to put candles and light them on the graves of their deceased relatives. As a public holiday, the 1st of November is a day-off for all employees.
It has been like that since the times of the People's Republic of Poland, although at that time the emphasis of the holiday was on its secular nature and called "Day of the Dead" or "Day of the Dead and Fallen".
In 2021, All Saints' Day falls on Monday.
Dziady is a Slavic ritual that was supposed to win the favor of the dead who were considered to be the guardians of fertility. During the ritual, people established relationships with the souls of their ancestors returning to their homes during the celebrations.
As a part of the ritual, souls who came to the world of the living had to be properly hosted to ensure their favor and to help them find peace in the afterlife. People were feeding and watering souls during special feasts prepared in homes.
In some areas, the ritual also included washing and warming the dead ancestors. To do so, people were lighting the fires that were supposed to warm them up and also guide wandering souls to their loved ones. The remnant of this practice is the modern lighting of the candles on the graves.
Due to the battles that Christians waged against pagans and their rites, the celebration of Dziady was forbidden and replaced by All Saints' Day with the accompanying Christian practices.
Dziady isn't a public holiday but it's still symbolically celebrated in Krakow on the Rękawka Festival directly related to the ancestors' spring festival.
The day of the dead in the world
Communing with death is known to people all over the world. In every known culture, there are rituals and celebrations related to the burial and remembrance of people who have passed away from this world. Among them, there are many interesting and unusual ways to celebrate.
Check how and when your international employees celebrate their day of the dead. Is it a public holiday for them? Or will they request a day-off?
USA, Canada, Ireland, UK, Australia – Halloween
Well popularized thanks to American pop culture, Halloween celebrations consist of dressing up as a ghost, ghouls, demons, witches, and other supernatural creatures. Covering the faces is strictly connected to the fact that the 31st of October was the day when the dead came back to the world of the living. People had to hide from them in masks and thanks to the pumpkin lanterns – they were ensuring safety during ghost night.
While the exact origins of Halloween aren't 100% settled, it's attributed to Ireland. In addition to the Celtic Samhain, it's sometimes also connected to the Roman holiday celebrated in honor of the fruits and seeds deity.
On Halloween night, children and adults dress up in costumes and visit houses for Trick or Treating – collecting the sweets from neighbors. Currently, the very popular practice is to organize dress-up parties.
Halloween is not considered a public holiday which is why it's not a day off. People can celebrate after work or they can request a leave day to spend the whole day with their families. In 2021 Halloween falls on Sunday so the additional day-off won't be necessary.
United Kingdom – Guy Fawkes
In Britain, people celebrate not only Halloween. The celebration of Guy Fawkes' Night is also a popular day in English folk tradition.
Guy Fawkes was a part of a Catholic group that planned a failed Gunpowder Plot in 1605. It's celebrated on November 5th, the anniversary of the conspiracy – the attack on the king of England and Scotland.
Traditionally, on this day children burn puppets representing the image of Guy Fawkes. The celebrations are also accompanied by fireworks and festivities.
The biggest celebration takes place in Bridgwater on the first Friday of November and is then repeated for a week in other towns, such as Burnham-on-Sea and North Petherton.
Guy Fawkes' Day isn't a public holiday. To celebrate on November 5th, employees would need to take a day-off or celebrate after work. Especially in 2021 when it took place on Friday.
Japan – O-Bon
The Japanese festival of death – O-Bon – is held in the summer. The tradition has been cultivated for over 500 years even before Buddhism was popularized in the country. For Japanese people, it's one of the most important holidays of the year and is celebrated for 3 days. It takes place on different days in various parts of the country but the entire celebration lasts between July 13-16 and August 13-16.
During O-Bon, people visit the graves of their deceased relatives with prepared food and drinks and place gifts on the special altars in front of their homes. Celebrations with ritual O-Bon dance are organized in the cities. By dancing, the Japanese greet the dead who, according to their beliefs, come down to earth.
During the festival, many people put on traditional clothes – summer yukatas, in which they dance to the sound of drums in the evening.
The final phase of the O-Bon celebrations – Toro Nagashi – is the most spectacular one. People light up the rivers, lakes, and seas with thousands of floating lanterns whose task is to lead the dead back to their land.
The most spectacular in the O-Ban festive is the final organized in Kyoto. In the evening Japanese lit on the huge fires on the five hills surrounding the city. Using Chinese signs for "dai" 大 (meaning "great"), "myou" 妙, and "hou" 法 they symbolize the miraculous teachings of the Buddha.
O-Bon isn't a public holiday but many Japanese take a few days off to spend this time with families and visit the cemeteries.
China – Ghost Festival
The Festival of Ghost (Chinese. Sim. 中元节, Chinese. Trad. 中元節, Pinyin zhōngyuánjié) takes place in China on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. According to folk tales, it was established by the Taoist monk Bukong in the 8th century.
In Chinese tradition, the seventh month is a Month of Spirits, during which souls leave the afterworld for 30 days to visit the world of the living. The celebrations take place both in homes and in cemeteries. However, it's not a public holiday, so to take part in the celebrations people need to request a day off.
The rituals associated with the celebrations include launching reed boats with lanterns and burning paper imitations of money, clothing, and everyday objects in front of the ancestrals' tablets.
Chinese also have another holiday connected to the dead. The day of the dead is a national holiday and falls on 4,5 or 6th of April. It's the most important dead holiday in China that starts with cleaning the graves.
People visit graves, offer gifts to their ancestors, and burn incense. Traditionally, the eldest family member lights candles on the graves in order to win a favor of spirits and good luck for the next year.
Mexico – Dia de los Muertos
The day of the dead in Mexico is a public holiday, thanks to which Mexicans are free from work. The celebration is divided into two main parts: on October 31st and November 1st – when people remember dead children, and 1-2 of November when they remember the adults. The history of the holiday itself goes back to pre-Columbian times and dates back several thousand years.
Preparations start a few weeks before. The shops sell accessories related to death like skulls, masks, and deadheads. People clean their houses and on the 31st of October, they offer food and drinks to the dead.
On November 1st, families visit graves and decorate them with palm wreaths and flowers. In particular – fleur de Muertos – a variety of marigolds which, according to Mexicans beliefs, leads the dead to the altars. In cities, people dress up like the dead and party.
Spain – Dia Todos los Santos/Tosantos
In Spain, the day of the dead is held on November 1st. It's a public holiday so people can stay at home without an additional leave day. In black costumes, they go to cemeteries to decorate the graves with flowers and pray for the souls of the dead, lighting up electric lights.
On the eve of Dia Todos los Santos – on October 31st – Spaniards organize Tosantos in Andalusia. People set up puppets made of animal heads (chickens, fish, pigs) and vegetables decorated to be associated with the world of sport, film, or politics on the marketplaces. The celebration is called Tosantos.
In Catalonia, on October 31st, there's also Castañada – a fiesta, during which it's possible to buy grilled chestnuts, baked sweet potatoes, panellets, or huesos de santo (saint's bones – marzipan balls stuffed with yolks and sugar).
Bolivia – Skulls Festival
The day of the dead in Bolivia is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd as a public holiday. It's a time of baking bread in the shapes of people, animals, and objects. Each of them has a role to play – for example, to illuminate the ways for souls. Prepared pastries are placed on the table with alcohol, food, cigarettes, and other things that the deceased liked while living.
The meeting with the dead begins at noon when the whole family sits down to feast. During the celebration, everyone is in a good mood, because according to Bolivian beliefs, death is a natural part of the transition to the next stage of life.
Festival of Skulls is another holiday connected to the dead that is celebrated in Bolivia. It takes place on November 8th and is not recognized as a public holiday. During this time, believers bring the skulls of their loved ones to bless.
The bones of the deceased are taken to the cemeteries, served with a cigar, alcohol, and additionally decorated. Bolivians believe that people have several souls, and one of them stays in their remains. That is why the family should take care of the deceased's remains all year round. In gratitude for the care, the kindly deceased fulfill their requests for health, money, and other temporal goods.
The tradition of celebrating the day of the dead in various parts of the world is extremely interesting and takes place on different days of the year. Therefore, it is worth finding out more about the way your international team's employees celebrate this day. It not only gives the knowledge of when to expect their absence but also allows them to make sure that employees feel comfortable in their work environment.
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