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A Salty Halloween

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

It is that time of year where glowing pumpkins, spooky skeletons, flying witches, ghosts booing, black cats, and flying bats appear on the front steps of many people’s homes. For some, this might feel odd to see “scary” decorations covering the homes of many, but this is a tradition and holiday many celebrate called Halloween! Halloween or as it once was commonly called All Hallow’s Eve takes place October 31st every year. It is a holiday that only a few places in the world celebrate – and it is one of my favorites to partake in!

Over time Halloween evolved into what we know it today, dressing up in fun costumes, snacking on sweets, and watching scary movies while carving a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern. However, this was not always the case. Halloween or All Hallows eve’s traditions originated from the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), a celebration for the end of the harvest. The festival was to celebrate the new year, which for the Celts was November 1st. During this time of year, the Celts believed the portal between the worlds of the living and dead were most opened. This allowed the ghost of the dead to cross over into the living world with ease. It was also thought to make it easier for the Celtic priest, or Druids, to make predictions about the future. Something that made the Celts look forward too while entering the dark winter months.

Throughout the course of history, Samhain was adapted into the Christian holiday All Saints and All Souls Day, with Halloween being the night before these two days of honoring the dead. In the 6th century, Pope Gregory suggested the Christian religion absorb Samhain into one that serves a Christian purpose. It was in the 7th century the Pagan holiday became “All Saints’ Day to honor all the saints of the Christian religion, which took place on November 1st. The night of the 31st was used for a time for fasting and preparation for the holiday. Eventually, the holiday “All Souls’ Day” or “the Day of the Dead” on November 2nd, was created to honor the loved ones who’ve died.

This tradition of All Hallows Eve and the bridge between the living and dead is not just seen in the Celtic tradition. Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, is a multi-day holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and parts of Latin America. Just like All Saints and All Souls Day, this holiday is to honor loved ones that have died.

On this multi-day holiday, starting on October 31st, different cultures do different traditions to honor the dead. However, a common tradition seen in both All Saints/All Souls Day, and with Día de los Muertos is the use of salt. Were you wondering when I was going to bring salt into the picture? Well never fear, salt is here!

Salt has a long-standing cultural meaning with the spirit world. In fact, salt is used in many cultures for different spiritual practices that have nothing to do with this day. But for this holiday is has a particular significance in honoring the dead.

During Día de los Muertos, altars are built to honor and remember loved ones that have died. Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead), orange marigolds, photos of the deceased, painted sugar skulls, colorful paper cutouts, lit candles, a bottle of tequila, and salt are commonly seen at these alters. Salt is typically held in small clay containers, sprinkled around the altar, or placed in a patter of the cross. It is used to purify the spirits’ soul, so during their travels to and from the spirit world their body does not get tainted along the way. Salt is also used to help the spirits of the dead find their way back in the following year. Salt is said to help quench the thirst of souls, to prevent them from coming corrupted. Salt is seen to purify and guide the spirits during this time.

Photo by Jennifer Nalewicki from the Smithsonian Magazine

Just with Día de los Muertos, salt is seen used during All Saints and All Souls Day. Many years ago, when I was learning herbalism from a traditional Hungarian healer, I got to learn the Hungarian traditions for this special holiday. Among many of the traditions performed, salt was also included. During this holiday, Hungarians go to their loved one’s graves or adopt a grave to clean the tomb stones – this is also seen among the Irish. After the graves are cleaned, offerings are placed in front of the grave site. Offerings include flowers, candles honey, and bread. The year I helped, we included salt, because like Día de los Muertos, salt was seen to protect the grave site. Although it should be noted that not all Hungarians place salt on the grave stone. However, they do place salt next to bread and water on the table at home, next to the lit candles that honor each of their loved ones.

When I helped my Hungarian friend, I got to experience another side of this holiday’s traditions in addition to my own. I realized Halloween and the days following are special days to spend with family and honor our loved ones. Since than I have continued the tradition by making an alter for my ancestors which of course includes salt, along with carving my Jack-o-lantern, watching Halloween movies, and decorating my house with bats, pumpkins, witches and ghost!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

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