Beyond Halloween: 8 Holidays Spirits Love


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All Saints' Day
Catholics in Austria mark All Saints' Day by visiting the gravesites of loved ones — and leaving out bread and water for their spirits at home. © DOMINIC EBENBICHLER/Reuters/Corbis

Germany and Austria are next-door neighbors. So it is not surprising that their customs are a bit similar. Like the Germans, many Austrians are Catholic, so they also celebrate All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day and All Souls' Week. All Saints' Day is the day dedicated to remembering the saints who have been canonized by the Catholic Church and is celebrated in many countries. Nov. 1 was chosen as the date by Pope Boniface in 609 probably to co-opt a pagan holiday called the Feast of the Lamures, which was when pagans tried to appease restless spirits [source: Catholic Online]. All Souls' Day is held on Nov. 2 and honors all those who have departed this earth. Many people blur the distinction between the two holidays, and may for instance, visit a family gravesite on Nov. 1.

Austrians believe, as do their German neighbors, that this is the sole time of year that dead souls can return to Earth and visit their old stomping grounds. But rather than worrying that they'll accidentally stab or slit these spirits, Austrians are concerned with making them feel welcome. So they keep their lights on at night, even after they have retired for the evening, so the souls don't have to fumble about in the dark. And since the journey from the netherworld to Earth is likely a tiring one, they also set out some bread and water for these famished and thirsty beings.

Author's Note: Beyond Halloween: 8 Holidays Spirits Love

I remember trick-or-treating for UNICEF as a child in the 1960s, and I was recently lamenting to my husband that this tradition had apparently died. None of our kids did it when they were little, nor do any children in our neighborhood currently show up on Halloween toting UNICEF boxes. But apparently it's still being done in certain areas of the country. Hopefully the movement will spread once again to my locale in America's heartland.

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