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April 2, 2020

3 Festivals of the Dead From Across the Globe

Although death is a time of sadness and grief for many, others use it to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. In many places around the world, these celebrations are elaborate and take on a life of their own. Here are three celebrations of death that celebrate the people of the past.

Obon: The Festival of Lanterns in Japan


Image via Flickr _e.t

Also known as The Festival of the Dead, this celebration is held annually in August. During the festival, souls of the departed return to visit their relatives. Buddhists in Japan celebrate by preparing offerings of special food for the spirits of their ancestors. The offerings are then placed in their homes and on temple altars.

When the sun sets, people light paper lanterns and hang them in front of their doors to help the spirits find their way home. Once the celebrations have ended, the families place the paper lanterns in the rivers and bays of Japan that flow out to the sea. The lit lanterns bobbing in the water guide the spirits back to the realm of the dead until next year’s celebration.

P’chum Ben: The Festival of the Dead in Cambodia


Image via Flickr SodanieChea

This celebration, which spans 14 days is held on the 10th month of the lunar calendar – usually in September. For 14 days, Cambodian Buddhists celebrate Pak Ben by waking up before dawn and preparing offerings of food and other gifts for local monks and their ancestors. The offerings include sweets and fruits, and they pray that they’ll one day reach their loved ones. Additionally, the Buddhists mix rice and sesame seeds, spreading it across the ground where it’s left for the hungry ghosts.

On the 15th day, villagers visit the pagoda with offerings of bean treats and sweet sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. This marks the start of P’chum Ben and the close of Pak Ben. On this day, people wear their finest clothes, gather with family and friends, and listen to music and speeches by the abbots, monks, and other key figures.

Los Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead in Mexico


Image via Flickr uteart

This celebration shares some of its origins with Halloween, like decorating with pictures of skeletons. But it’s also derived from European traditions brought forth by the invasions of the Spanish conquistadors. While the American traditional is to rely on services like those provided by American Cremation & Casket Alliance for funeral services, this Mexican tradition is quite different.

People celebrate this fiesta by placing photographs, flowers, drinks, and food on the gravestones of their loved ones or on family altars. Extended families will meet at cemeteries on the evening of the fiesta to take part in a vigil throughout the night and eat the foods they’ve prepared. The gravestone and altar’s preparation is very symbolic during this fiesta.

The flower’s brief life span reminds people of how short life is. Colorful tissue decorates gravestones and altars. Fruits and sweets accompany staples in life including bread, salt, and water. At the end, Calaveras statues depicting skeletons take part in activities, like cooking or playing in mariachi bands, bringing a smile to the grieving faces.

Death is imminent and everyone copes with it their own way. Either way, celebrating the life of your loved ones is never a bad idea.

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