The Art of Darkness

Death Takes a Holiday

May 20th, 2009 by Cobwebs

We all look forward to Halloween, but waiting a whole year to celebrate is kind of a drag. Fortunately, the whole calendar is haunted if you know where to look.

Festivals that honor the ancestors or propitiate unhappy ghosts are common in many cultures. If you’re looking for off-season excuses to get a little spooky, here are a few other dates that might interest you.

(Note: Holidays marked with an asterisk are based on a lunar calendar and move around from year to year. The dates given below are the next occurrence of each holiday.)

May 22, 24, and 26 – Lemuria
This Roman holiday took place on three non-successive days and was intended to frighten away evil spirits and placate the souls of those who had not been properly buried.

May 31* – Semik/Rusalii
This is a movable holiday which falls 50 days after Easter. It’s a week-long Slavic holiday when the dead return to Earth and evil forces are particularly active.

August 15 – Obon
An important Japanese Buddhist celebration, honoring the deceased.

September 2* – Ghost Festival
The Chinese “Festival of the Hungry Ghosts” has one of the best names for any festival, ever. On the first day of the seventh month the Gates of Hell open and spirits come back to spend a month in the world of the living.

September 18-20* – Pchum Ben
A Cambodian Buddhist celebration to commemorate deceased ancestors.

October 26 – Dziady
Another Slavic celebration, to honor the ancestors. Women sing funeral dirges and feasts are held at family gravesites. There are two of these a year, in spring and autumn. The dates apparently differ by locality, but the common autumn one appears to be St. Dimitrios’ Eve and the spring one the Tuesday after Easter.

October 31 – Halloween
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what this is all about.

November 1 – All Saints Day/All Hallows Day/Hallowmas
A Catholic holiday to honor all of the saints who don’t have a feast day of their own. It rolled around in enough pagan traditions to absorb a lot of interesting celebratory ideas.

November 2 – All Souls Day
A followup to All Saints Day, this one to commemorate all of the non-saint departed. An interesting custom was “soul cakes,” wherein each cake eaten was supposed to release a soul from Purgatory.

November 2 – Dia de Muertos
The famed Day of the Dead, where death is everywhere and dinner is eaten in the graveyard.

Jan 20* – Vasant Panchami
A Hindu festival celebrating Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, and art. Ancestor propitiation is part of the tradition.

Jan 30* – Chytroi
The third day of the Athenian Anthesteria festival, Chytroi, was devoted to expelling unwanted ghosts.

Jan 31 – Me-Dam-Me-Phi
A festival in Assam which features offerings to departed ancestors.

February 21 – Feralia
A Roman feast honoring the “infernal powers”. It’s the last day of the week-long Parentalia which honored the dead.

April 5* – Qingming
The Chinese have a number of holidays which honor the ancestors. Qingming is Tomb Sweeping Day, and families clean up the graves of family members. Between this and the Hungry Ghosts thing, I think the Chinese totally win at evocative holiday names.

April 6* – Dziady
(See the description for October 26, above)

April 30 – Walpurgisnacht
A German celebration which folded the Celtic feast of Beltane into St. Walpurga’s Eve. Witches were reputed to hold their annual meeting on the Brocken (the highest mountain in Germany), and many rituals were performed to scare them away.

:::whew::: There are other, more obscure holidays out there as well. With a little digging you should be able to find an excuse for a spooky party no matter what time of year it is.

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One Response

  1. Tala Says:

    Awesome list!

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