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It is October 31, Halloween. It is time to put on a costume, party and hand out candy to kids. Right? Well, it depends on where you are from. I was born and raised in Continental Europe where this tradition does not exist. Something else exists instead. Just like people in Mexico, the Continental Europeans, especially in Central Europe, celebrate Day of the Dead.

Originally a three day holiday, the most important celebration is on November 1st. People go to the cemetery after dark, to the family grave site, and hold a family ceremony of remembering those who have passed away. They usually light a red candle at the beginning and white candles for each of their loved ones who have passed. They say prayers and send messages of love to the dead in Summerland. Some ask the dead to come, to pass through the portal of the beyond and be with them, so that they can feel their presence. At the end of the evening, they leave the candles burning when they walk away.

This is not creepy. It is not meant to be. It is a tradition from the pre-Christian era of Europe to acknowledge, remember and show respect to those who have been here, but no longer are. It is also a chance to heal for those who have recently lost loved ones. It is chance to unload what is in the heart, perhaps to say what was never said, but should have been. It is a time for tears, memories of good times and a spiritual connection that surpasses all barriers. Mostly, it is a time to let go. Once the family members called upon the dead, prayed for their souls and shed tears, it is time to let go off them with the hope that they are now happy in the beyond. It is time to begin a new existence without them, being at peace with their fate. It is a spiritual and psychological renewal and a commitment to go on in this life without them, but with all their memories and love left in the heart intact.

There are no costumes, candies, parties or laughter. It is a sombre time. But, it is an ancient and beautiful tradition that brings love, closure and a sense of new beginning on the path of destiny.

So, try to be understanding, if you come across a European household where people are not in the partying mood. They are not meant to be rude; they are just remembering the loved ones who have passed, taking part in one of Europe’s most ancient traditions.

M. J. Mandoki