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Halloween is approaching, so here´s a few thoughts on if, and/or how, each of the girls would have celebrated it…

 Origins and development until the 18th century

Halloween, as we know it, has its roots in the Roman festival of Pomona and the Celtic Samhain.

In the 730s, Pope Gregory  III moved All Saints Day (or All Hallow’s Day, in England) from May 1st to November 1st to coincide with certain pagan festivals that were still popular in folk tradition, especially the Celtic Samhain. ( If you can´t beat them, usurp them). The eve of All Saints Day, October 31st, became All Hallow Even, then Hallowe’en, and then Halloween. In addition, a French monastic order called the Cluniacs created All Soul’s Day to commemorate all departed Christian souls (not just the saints’) on November 2nd . Taken together, the three days were called Hallowmas (“hallow” meaning “sanctified” or “holy”).

In many respects, these Christian rituals remained the same as their pagan counterparts with a few important derivations. For example, like the ancient pagans, the Church encouraged their congregation to remember the dead–but with prayers instead of sacrifice. In addition, instead of appeasing spirits through food and wine, members of the congregation would go house to house carrying a hollowed out turnip lantern whose candle symbolized a soul trapped in purgatory and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for “Soul Cakes.”

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Poor churches could not afford genuine relics of the saints and instead held processions where parishioners dressed as saints, angels, and devils, resembling the pagan custom of parading ghosts to the town limits.

Bonfires were also lit, not in homage to the sun, but to keep the mortal enemy of the new religion away: Satan, a concept arguably incompatible with the polytheism of the ancient Celts. The Druids were seen as witches (wiccas or “wise ones”), and a fourteenth-century text called Malleus Maleficarium (The Witches Hammer) created a link between witchcraft and the devil that produced a mythology so powerful it lasts even today.

By the end of the Middle Ages, Hallowmas was among the most important liturgical movements in the Christian year.

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During the Reformation, many Catholic rituals–including Hallowmas–were banned in Protestant countries. Yet, just as the Celtic Samhain had been assimilated with the Roman festival of Ponoma and merged again with Catholic custom, the English Protestants appropriated several elements of Halloween in an autumn festival known as Guy Fawkes Day. This day celebrated the Protestant triumph of a Catholic plot led by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Protestant-sympathetic House of Lords when Parliament met on Nov 5, 1605. Guy Fawkes was publically hanged and then drawn and quartered for his role in the plot, and it became popular to re-enact his punishment through the festive parading of a scarecrow figure through the streets. The eve of Guy Fawkes Day became “mischief night” and, instead of begging for “soul cakes” in commemoration of All Saints Day, boys dressed up in costumes to beg for coal to burn their effigies of Guy Fawkes, the Pope, or other unpopular political figures.

But in countries that maintained a strong Celtic/Catholic tradition, such as Ireland and Scotland, Halloween rituals flourished largely untouched by the Protestant Reformation. Source

Traditionally, this was believed to be a time when the veil between the seen and unseen world was at its thinnest and the past and present merged. Doors and windows were left unlocked so that the spirits of the dead who had crossed over from the otherworld could come and enjoy the festivities or warm themselves at their former hearth. Food and drink were put out on the doorsteps for ghost during the remembrance feast and the living were forbidden to touch it. Although, representatives of the “silent community”, which comprised of the poor and needy, would walk door-to-door, chanting a rhyme such as the traditional Celtic “Soul Cakers Song”. They often received flat, round buns of oat flour, called Dirge Loaves. If you complied with the ritual you were honored with good fortune in the New Year, if you did not you often awoke to find that that a nasty trick had been played upon you or that your garden had been destroyed. (Halloween traditions in Regency England

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Medieval masked mummers

From at least the 16th century, the festival included mumming and guising, which involved men going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food.

In 19th century Scotland, youths went house-to-house with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. In parts of Wales, men went about dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachod. In some places, young people dressed as the opposite gender. In parts of southern Ireland, a man dressed as a Láir Bhán (white mare) led youths house-to-house reciting verses in exchange for food. Elsewhere in Europe, mumming and costumes were part of other yearly festivals. However, in the Celtic-speaking regions they were “particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers”. It is suggested that the costumes were a means of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí.

It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognised by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities.

Many Christians in continental Europe, especially in France, acknowledged “a belief that once a year, on Hallowe’en, the dead of the churchyards rose for one wild, hideous carnival,” known as the danse macabre, which has been commonly depicted in church decoration, especially on the walls of cathedrals, monasteries, and cemeteries. This danse macabre, which was enacted by “Christian village children [who] celebrated the vigil of All Saints” in the 16th Century, has been suggested as the predecessor of modern day costume parties on this same day.

Kaya – 1764

Obviously, the Nez Perce in Kaya´s time did not know or celebrate Halloween (although members of the tribe living today might). The Nimiipuu celebrate the changing of the seasons and events in nature such as the first food in spring and the return of the salmon in summer, so Kaya´s tribe might have had a harvest celebration with song and dance around this time of the year. (I researched, but did not find anything specific).

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The Nimiipuu believe that the spirits of their dead go on into the spirit world. The names of the deceased are not spoken, and certain rituals are performed to make sure that nothing prevents their spirit from moving on into the spirit world. Spirits that can not go on could become malevolent. (Source) As part of the spirit world, the ancestors are always a part of the world around us, and rituals are performed for communication, to honor, or to thank them.

Unlike other cultures that share the belief in a spirit world or afterworld of some kind, the Nimiipuu have no specific time during which the border between the spirit world and that of the living is considered weak and the spirits can come back to visit the living – such as the Japanese O-Bon, Chinese Lantern Festival or Halloween.  An individual could become close to, or enter, the spirit world during their own personal vision quest, but that is something entirely different – a personal spiritual experience which cannot be compared to any of those festivals.

Felicity and Elizabeth – 1774

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Colonial Williamsburg in the Fall

The existence of Hallowmas in the early American colonies depended on the religious fabric of each emerging colony. Whereas Maryland and Virginia were settled by Catholic and Church of England followers who imported Hallowmas symbols and feasts of the Old World, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, New Hampshire, and Connecticut were populated by rigid Puritans who viewed the Catholic and pagan overtones of Hallowmas as anathema to Puritan philosophy. Ironically, while the Puritans felt praying for the souls of the already predestined dead was redundant, they held a fascination of witchcraft and divination, and their witch-hunting zeal forever established one of Halloween’s most enduring symbols. In addition, Puritan New England practiced other remnants of Hallowmas such as fortune-telling games (predicting future spouses) and the celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. Source

The Fortune Teller Casting the Coffee Grounds MetMuseum

As the customs practiced by the varied European ethnic groups meshed with traditions employed by the native American Indians, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge, but it was not an occasion for costumed children to rap colonial door knockers, and no jack-o’-lanterns flickered from colonial windows.

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Illustration to Robert Burns’ “Halloween” (1785) by J.M. Wright and Edward Scriven

The first Halloween celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest. At these gatherings, neighbors would share stories of the dead, predict each others’ fortunes, sing and make merry with dancing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and general mischief-making of all kinds. The early American settlers celebrated the holiday with corn-popping parties, taffy pulls and hayrides. 

Washington Irving describes a harvest festival in 1790  Connecticut in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820).

It was toward evening that Ichabod arrived at the castle of the Heer Van Tassel, which he found thronged with the pride and flower of the adjacent country. Old farmers … in homespun coats and breeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles. Their brisk withered little dames, in close crimped caps, long-waisted short-gowns, home-spun petticoats, with scissors and pincushions, and gay calico pockets hanging on the outside. Buxom lasses, almost as antiquated as their mothers, excepting where a straw hat, a fine ribbon, or perhaps a white frock, gave symptoms of city innovation. The sons, in short square-skirted coats with rows of stupendous brass buttons, and their hair generally queued in the fashion of the times, …. Fain would I pause to dwell upon the world of charms that burst upon the enraptured gaze of my hero, as he entered the state parlor of Van Tassel’s mansion. Not those of the bevy of buxom lasses, with their luxurious display of red and white; but the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea-table, in the sumptuous time of autumn. Such heaped-up platters of cakes of various and almost indescribable kinds, known only to experienced Dutch housewives! There was the doughty dough-nut, the tenderer oly koek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes. And then there were apple pies and peach pies and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and moreover delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, all mingled higgledy-piggledly, pretty much as I have enumerated them, with the motherly tea-pot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst…Old Baltus Van Tassel moved about among his guests with a face dilated with content and good humor, round and jolly as the harvest moon. His hospitable attentions were brief, but expressive, being confined to a shake of the hand, a slap on the shoulder, a loud laugh, and a pressing invitation to “fall to, and help themselves.”

“And now the sound of the music from the common room, or hall, summoned to the dance. The musician was an old grayheaded [sic]negro, who had been the itinerant orchestra of the neighborhood for more than half a century. His instrument was as old and battered as himself. The greater part of the time he scraped on two or three strings, accompanying every movement of the bow with a motion of the head; bowing almost to the ground, and stamping with his foot whenever a fresh couple were to start. …  When the dance was at an end, Ichabod was attracted to a knot of the sager folks, who, with old Van Tassel, sat smoking at one end of the piazza, gossiping over former times, and drawing out long stories about the war. … But all these were nothing to the tales of ghosts and apparitions that succeeded. The neighborhood is rich in legendary treasures of the kind. …  All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of Ichabod…The revel now gradually broke up. The old farmers gathered together their families in their wagons, and were heard for some time rattling along the hollow roads, and over the distant hills. Some of the damsels mounted on pillions behind their favorite swains, and their light-hearted laughter, mingling with the clatter of hoofs, echoed along the silent woodlands, sounding fainter and fainter until they gradually died away—and the late scene of noise and frolic was all silent and deserted.”

Among the popular games or fortune telling methods were dunking or bobbing for apples in a bowl of water or trying to catch an apple on a string with your teeth. They old wives would say that if you captured an apple between your teeth on Hallowmas Eve you would have the power to see the days to come. (Halloween traditions in Regency England).

A great many superstitions and divinations were recorded in a poem written, in 1785, by Robert Burns (1759-1796), titled “Hallowe’n.” and were still popular among the young people in the 19th century.

Following are examples and explanation of the spells and divinations mentioned in Burns’ poem, as well as others that appeared in diaries, magazine articles, and newspapers.

Nut burning was a way to see if one’s lover was faithful. Individual nuts, named after the man and woman were placed on the fire grate and if they burned together, the couple would be together and faithful to each other. If a nut cracked or jumped, the named lover will be unfaithful or if it blazed, great regard was felt for another person. Sowing-hemp seed was charm to see a future husband; a girl would out alone to harrow and sow the hemp seed while saying, “Hemp-seed I sow, hemp-seed grow. He that is to marry me, Come after me and mow.” The girl looked over her left shoulder and if she saw a man carrying a scythe and mowing the hemp, he was to be her husband; if she saw no one, she would never marry; and if she saw a coffin, she would die before she was wed. Pulling kail [cabbage] was an activity in which non-engaged couples would go out hand in hand and eyes shut, then pull the first cabbage plant they came upon and the size. The shape and the amount of dirt on the root would indicate their matrimonial fortunes. The looking-glass spell required a person to go alone and take a candle to a mirror; he or she then ate an apple in front of the mirror and one’s true love would be seen in the reflection as if peering over the shoulder of the subject. In the sark sleeve charm, one was supposed to dip his or her left sleeve in a flowing stream where three properties met; they would then go to bed after hanging the shirt to dry. Around midnight, an apparition, resembling the subject’s future spouse, would turn the wet sleeve inside out. Pulling straw meant that a woman would pull three oat straws from a stalk of oats and if the third stalk had grains at the top of the stalk, the young woman would have lost her virginity before marriage. The charm of three luggies [dishes] foretold the future. Three dishes, one containing clean water, one dirty water, and the last empty were placed before a blindfolded person. The subject dipped his or her left hand in one of the dishes; if the clean water was chosen, the future husband or wife would come to the marriage pure; if the dirty water was chosen they would be widowed; and if the empty dish was chosen, there would be no marriage at all. One verison of the dumb-cake charm involved girls kneading a cake, made with flour, eggs, and salt, with their left thumbs and not saying a single word. The initial of the preparer would be pricked on the surface of the cake before baking and as the cake baked, the initials of the future mate would be pricked in the cake. After baking, the participants would eat the cake before going to bed while walking backwards. If they were successful, the girls would see their future husband in their dreams. The apple paring charm required that a girl take and apple and peel it. The peeling should be taken in the right hand and while turning around three times chanting a proscribed verse; then the peeling was thrown over the left shoulder and it should form the first letter of her future husband’s name. If the peel broke into pieces where there is no recognizable letter, the girl will never marry. In order for the prediction to come true, she should then take the seeds of the same apple and place them in a glass with spring water and drink them. There were also charms or divinations that did not have specific names. In one, girls would pour molten lead or wax into a dish of cold water and the resultant shape would be an indication of who their husband would be; a horse would signify a dragoon or a helmet meant a policeman; a round shape with a spike meant a sailor; or a cow indicated a farmer. A similar charm was made by breaking and separating an egg, placing the egg white in a glass that is half full of water. The glass was left untouched for twenty-four hours and after this time the white would have formed itself into various forms and these forms were interpreted like tea leaves or coffee grounds. Another egg charm consisted of taking the yolk from a boiled egg and filling the cavity with salt. The egg and salt would be eaten at bedtime without drinking water. They were supposed to see an apparition of their future husband bringing them water. Not all the charms were performed at any one time but a variety would be played on Halloween night. Some of these same charms were part of other celebrations, such as Mid-summer’s Eve.

Some traditional games played at Halloween time that did not involve seeking knowledge of one’s future spouse, but just provided amusement for the party-goers. In ducking for apples or snap-apple; apples were either placed in a tub of water and with their hands behind their back, the participants would attempt to secure an apple in their teeth or the apple was hung from a string and the blindfolded participants tried to catch the apple in their teeth. Candle-singeing consisted of hanging, from a string, a stick parallel to the ceiling. A candle was placed on one end of the stick and an apple on the other; the stick was turned quickly and the company would try to bite into the apple while dodging the burning candle. The participants sometimes ended up with a singed face or hair or tallow grease spattered on them. Sotrce

By the middle of the 19th Century, annual Autumn festivals were quite common, but Halloween was still not yet celebrated throughout the entire country. Source

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Colonial Americans didn’t trick or treat, or have costumes, or candy as we know it, either. What they had were pumpkins–  far more varieties of the fruit than we see today, and all of which were consumed in far greater quantities than we do today. An important food source, pumpkins were crucial to their survival through the hungry winter months.

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The most common way to prepare pumpkins was to stew them. Another way was to add them to soup or stew. Other colonial women cut them in half, removed the seeds, put them back together before roasting, and then served them with butter.Colonial Englishwomen, following the English tradition of making pies out of just about anything, quickly figured out how to make a pumpkin pie, though they didn’t call it that. The first American cookbook, published in 1796 by Amelia Simmons, offers two recipes for pumpkin pudding, one with a “paste,” or crust, and one without.

Colonial Americans also drank their pumpkin. An enterprising person can make an alcoholic beverage out of almost anything, and the Pilgrims seem to have been first to make pumpkin beer or ale. Source

Felicity and Elizabeth in Colonial Williamsburg probably would have celebrated Halloween by attending an all-ages gathering with music, dance, fortune telling games and ghost stories.

They would have worn good – though maybe not their very best – dresses but no costumes. Perhaps there would have been a hayride and/or a bonfire.

There would have been seasonal food – such as pumpkin, corn and apples. As a special treat, freshly popped corn (well, popcorn) would have been eaten with sugar and cream; or perhaps they would have pulled taffy from molasses.

Decorations would have been low-key and harvest-themed,  such as pumpkins, apples, or a fall wreath on the door or over the fireplace.

They would have visited the cemetery and cleaned and decorated the graves of their loved ones for Hallowmas.

As both girls´families would have belonged to the Church of England, the actual religious holiday would have been All Saints´ Day on November 1st. In Catholic tradition, All Saints´ Day is the day to remember all Saints (duh!) and All Souls´ Day on November 2nd is the day to remember all other departed. In some Anglican traditions, All Saints´ and All Souls´ have been merged, with every departed Christian “of good will” able to be considered a “saint”.

The family would have gone to church on All Saints´, and the rest of the day would have been like a Sunday or holiday – a day without work. It would have been a quiet day to remember and pray for your loved ones.

Caroline – 1812

The American Revolution created a society more tolerant of religious diversity and, consequently, Halloween celebrations became increasingly secular and centered in the community rather than churches.

While Halloween maintained its association with the harvest and changing seasons, it was also becoming more gendered. For example, while young males were creating mischief such as blocking chimneys, ruining cabbage patches, unhinging gates, and unstable-ing horses, young women typically stayed close to home on “San-Apple Night” to divine a future mate by bobbing for apples or divining from apple peels. Still, both genders enjoyed telling ghost stories, which likely derived from both the Druid belief that the ancestral dead arise on this night and the Christian directive to honor the souls of the departed at Hallowmas.

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Fledging Halloween festivities after the Revolutionary War in America were given new life by an unprecedented number of immigrants between 1820 and 1870, particularly the Irish.

The state of New York in particular was populated largely by immigrants from Europe, including English, Scottish, Palatine German, and Irish immigrants, and the slave trade had brought in many Africans. (New York at one time had the largest African slave population north of the Mason-Dixon Line.)

The Scottish and Irish immigrants in particular would have celebrated Halloween and would have had some traditions that would only spread to other parts of the country somewhat later, along with the large-scale Irish immigration in the 1840s. While Ireland and Scotland had kept with these traditions, England tended to shy away from them at the time. During the Regency period, the customs of All Hallows Eve were mainly kept to the country folk if practiced at all. (Halloween traditions in Regency England).

Indeed, wherever the Irish went, their rich Halloween folk beliefs were eagerly embraced by Americans. The Irish reinvigorated embryonic American Halloween traditions and added a renewed emphasis on masquerades, house-to-house visits, and the symbol of Halloween itself, the Jack O’Lantern. Though there are many renderings of its origin, the Jack O’ Lantern is most often said to have been named after a man named Jack who trapped the devil in a tree. Jack agreed to let the devil go if the devil guaranteed that Jack would not go Hell after Jack died. When Jack died, he was not allowed into heaven since he was a cruel and sinful man in life, but Jack was also denied entrance into Hell because of the pact he had made with the devil. However, the devil gave Jack a burning ember from the fires of Hell which Jack placed in a turnip or carrot to navigate the dark places of the earth. When the Irish came to America, they found pumpkins plentiful and better suited as lanterns.

Other immigrant groups added their unique traditions as well. For example, the Germans and Scots enriched American witchcraft mythology , and African Americans contributed elements of Voudon (sometimes called voodoo) to American Halloween traditions. Source

This source argues that jack olanterns and pumpkin carving were known in America before the 1840s.

Guising was a Halloween tradition as far back as the 16th century in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. People would don costumes or disguises and go door-to-door asking for food, offering to recite a verse or sing a song in return. The Irish also had an old Halloween practice of going door-to-door and asking for money for a feast to honor Muck Olla, a Druid deity. Supposedly, generous donors were guaranteed wealth and threats were made against the stingy.  Among the earliest records of “guising” at Halloween in Scotland is one from the 1880s,

In Shropshire and other parts of England children still go souling, and they sing the following verses… “Soul! Soul! For an apple or two; If you’ve got no apples, pears will do. . . ”

It seems to be a similar custom, that of the boys of Scotland, who at Hallow tide go about ‘guising’. Three or four of them put on ‘false-faces’, or vizards of pasteboard, and enter a house unceremoniously; [they then stage a sword fight].The wounded combatant is speedily cured, and the ‘guisers’ are ready to depart, enriched with whatever the good people of the house are willing to give.

Another Scottish record from 1895 tells of masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visiting homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. While the custom of guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911, the tradition is much older and depending on the community, it might have been performed earlier. The costumes of the mummers would have been made of straw, rags tied over their faces, or blackened faces, depending on the region/tradition.

mummers-3 Source

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Pranks such as hiding animals, changing street signs and soaping windows were considered to be the work of the fairies the Irish brought to America. Source 

Scottish immigrants celebrated with fireworks, telling ghost stories, playing games and making mischief. There were games such as bobbing for apples, dooking, the dropping of forks on apples without using hands, and Puicini, an Irish fortune-telling game using saucers. Young women were frequently told if they sat in dark rooms and gazed into a mirror, the face of their future husbands would appear, however, if a skull appeared, the poor girl would be destined to die before marriage. Source

In Puicini (pronounced “poocheeny”), a blindfolded person is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled, and the seated person then chooses one by touch; the contents of the saucer (earth, water, beans or money) determine the person’s life during the following year.(Source)

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Snap-Apple Night painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise, 1833.

(Snap-Apple Night was another term for Halloween).

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Sackets Harbour, NY, in 1812, was a small village populated by migrants from New England as well as immigrants from Great Britain and France. Most of the community were Englishmen.

Caroline probably would have celebrated Halloween getting together with other girls for a night of fortune telling games and ghost stories.

She would have worn a good – though maybe not her very best – dress but no costume, and some of the local boys might have roamed the streets playing pranks. There would have been a bonfire.

There would have been seasonal food – such as pumpkin, corn and apples.

Decorations would have been low-key and harvest-themed,  such as pumpkins, apples, or a fall wreath on the door or over the fireplace. There could have been jack´o lanterns.

Like Felicity and Elizabeth, Caroline and her family would have visited the cemetery and cleaned and decorated the graves of their loved ones for All Saints´ Day, and gone to mass on the following day.

Costumes

Although Felicity, Elizabeth, or Caroline would not have dressed up for Halloween or gone trick-or-treating, masquerades and fancy-dress balls were known in their times. These would have been adult affairs, though.

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Minuet by Venetian artist Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1756 (source)

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Children would have played dress-up only in the circle of the family, playing charades.

Josefina, 1824

In 1824, what is now the state of New Mexico was a part of newly independent Mexico, after a long time of being an isolated part of the Spanish colony of New Spain.

Mexican indepencence had only recently established the contact with the United States via the Santa Fe Trail; while a colony, trade with anyone but Spain had been forbidden.

As such, life in New Mexico was shaped by the influences of the indigenous Pueblo and Plains cultures; and, to a large degree, by Catholic Spain.

Josefina would not have known or celebrated Halloween, but she would have observed All Hallows Day (Dia del Todos los Santos) and All Souls Day (Dia de las Animas).

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All Hallows Day is a very important day in both the Spanish and Catholic tradition, and people visit their loved ones´ graves, clean them and decorate them with ofrendas (offerings) of flowers (especially chrysanthemums), candles and items the deceased liked in life. Churches also hold mass in memories of those deceased to supposedly shorten their time spent in purgatory.

But this day is not just about mourning the loss of loved ones. It is also a day to celebrate life and be together as a family (including the deceased members).

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Traditional food in Spain shared on this occasion is roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes and small, round marzipan cookies called panellets and huesos del santo (Saints´ Bones). Source Source2 More

New Mexico was located more than 700 miles distance from “main” Mexico. While both were connected  by the Camino Real trade route, most of the population of New Mexico were Spanish colonial settlers and Pueblo indians. There was little identification with Mexico.    and little interest of the Mexican government in its remote provinces.

Just like Felicity and Elizabeth would still have considered themselves English, Josefina and her family would have considered themselves Spanish – to distinguish themselves from “los norteamericanos” – rather than Mexican.

While the tradition of Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) was already long established in “main” Mexico in Josefina´s time, it is difficult to tell whether it was also practiced in her region in New Mexico.

Most sources I was able to find state that the custom became only really known in the United States after it was promoted and emphasized by the Chicano movement in the 1960s.

Tia Dolores, who had lived in Mexico City, could have known the tradition and introduced it to Josefina and her sisters to help them deal with the loss of their mother, as it is a cheerful celebration of one´s loved ones rather than a mourning of their loss.

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd – an amalgam of pre-hispanic mesoamerican traditions and the Catholic All Hallow´s Day and All Souls´ Day.  In homes, people create altars to honor their deceased loved ones.  In graveyards, families clean the graves of their loved ones, which they then decorate with flowers, photos, candles, foods and drinks. People stay up all night in the graveyards, socializing and telling funny stories about their dead ancestors. Musicians are hired to stroll through the graveyard, playing the favorite songs of the dead. Source

Traditionally, every family in Mexico builds an altar on the days leading up to November 1. On top of the altar, offerings are laid out for the dead – known as ofrenda in Spanish. These are items that the spirits will enjoy when they come back to earth to visit their living families and friends. People make an effort to lay out the best ofrenda they can afford, consisting of things the dead person enjoyed while s/he was alive.

dsc_0174 Source

A Day of the Dead altar is usually arranged on a table top that is used exclusively for the altar, or it is built from stacks of crates. Altars have at least two tiers, sometimes more. The table or crates are draped with cloth (or sometimes a paper or plastic covering). An arch made of marigolds is often erected over top of the altar.

Whether simple or sophisticated, Day of the Dead altars and ofrenda all contain certain basic elements in common. Here are the ofrendas that you will typically see on a Dia de los Muertos altar:

  • Candles – Candles are lit to welcome the spirits back to their altars.
  • Marigolds – These yellow-orange flowers, also called cempasúchitl, symbolize death. Their strong fragrance also help lead the dead back to their altars. Marigold petals may also be sprinkled on the floor in front of the altar, or even sprinkled along a path from the altar to the front door, so that the spirit may find her way inside.
  • Incense – Most commonly, copal incense, which is the dried aromatic resin from a tree native to Mexico. The scent is also said to guide the spirits back to their altars
  • Salt – represents the continuance of life.
  • Picture  of the deceased – A framed picture of the dead person to whom the altar is dedicated, usually positioned in a prime spot on the altar.
  • Pan de muerto – Also known as “bread of the dead”, pan de muerto is a symbol of the departed.
  • Sugar skulls – As symbols of death and the afterlife, sugar skulls are not only given as gifts to the living during Day of the Dead, they are also placed as offerings on the altar.
  • Fresh fruit – whatever is in season –
  • Other foods – Traditional Day of the Dead foods that you would find on altars include atole, mole, tamales, and tortillas. Altars also usually include the dead person’s favorite foods.

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