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Posted: October 29, 2010 12:00 a.m.

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The Day of the Dead

File photograph by Brittany Thomas/


Many Americans think of Halloween as a harmless, fun holiday, with kids and adults dressing in costumes and passing out candy.

Others see it as a day rooted in evil and plan alternative celebrations.

With the growing Hispanic population, and rising Catholic population in Newton County, there are an increasing number of people here celebrating the Catholic traditions of All Saints Day and All Souls Day and the Latin American tradition of the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos.

The Day of the Dead, though similar in some ways to Halloween, is rooted in both Catholic traditions and Hispanic culture. It’s celebrated in some parts of Mexico and Central and South America as a three-day festival which includes All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

"The Day of the Dead encompasses many beautiful Catholic and cultural traditions," said the Rev. Roberto Orellano of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Covington.

St. Augustine will have its own celebrations for All Souls Day. The regular weekend masses will take place Saturday and Sunday.

Parishioners are in the midst of a novena, or series of daily prayers, leading up to All Souls Day. The church will conduct a Mass at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday the church will have a Rosary followed by a light reception.

Halloween originated traditionally as All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saints Eve, a celebration of the night before All Saints Day, much as Christmas Eve is celebrated today. Catholics traditionally held a vigil mass the night before All Saints Day. Old English and Celtic rituals were blended with the Catholic influences and old-fashioned American commercialization to lead to the holiday we celebrate today.

All Saints Day, celebrated on Nov. 1, is when Catholics honor the lives of the saints who have gone on to heaven. Catholics often attend Mass on All Saints Day, and in some parishes, children dress as their favorite saint.

Some parishes use the day to honor children who have died. All Souls Day, which is Tuesday, is a day in which Catholics celebrate their family members who have passed away. Loved ones visit the graves of their family members, clean them up, and leave flowers and gifts for the dead.

"Families travel from cemetery to cemetery, honoring their loved ones," said Orellano. "You pack a lot of food because you spend the day at the cemeteries."

In Hispanic cultures, the Day of the Dead is an elaborate celebration, with families building shrines to their deceased loved ones. Towns in Latin America will set up marketplaces weeks before the holiday, selling flowers, food and drink, and other items to decorate the shrines in elaborate arrangements. The Day of the Dead can take on the atmosphere of a carnival, with both solemn and joyous celebrations taking place to honor departed family members.

The holiday takes on a definite local flair.

"In many areas, the Catholic traditions have been blended with the pagan rituals native to the region, and the people create a unique celebration, much like what has happened to Halloween and other originally Catholic holidays here in America." said Orellano.

Many modern traditions that we celebrate at Halloween have their origins in these Catholic holy days. Trick-or-treating began as the All Saints Day custom of the poor begging for food in exchange for prayers on All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Jack-o’-lanterns began as turnips hollowed out and carved to honor souls in purgatory. The custom of dressing in costume comes from the tradition of dressing as saints on All Saints Day.

"Many of the superheroes that kids dress up as today are basically fighting evil," said Orellano, "so you can see how the costumes come from the same tradition."

Other celebrations geared to the Day of the Dead will take place in Atlanta. The Atlanta History Center will host its annual Day of the Dead celebration from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Atlantic Station also hosts a Day of the Dead festival on from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 7.


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