But instead of the American dark love of horror movies, sugar-crazed trick or treat kids and inanely grinning pumpkins, you find life – with costumed street parties, drinking, family picnics and cleaning graves to celebrate their deceased loved ones.
Either way, the origins of these festivals do merge.
Global cultures celebrate the dead
And it’s no secret that all cultures across the planet respect and remember their ancestors in some ritualized way (for example in China, it’s known as Qing Ming: Tomb Sweeping Day).
Origins of Halloween
However, the origins of today’s Halloween goes back over 2000 years to the Celts in Britain and Ireland.
They celebrated Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) at the end of Autumn, when they understood that winter brought more deaths. This was the time to connect with their dead with bonfires, food, and masks.
Later when Christianity arrived in Britain, Samhain was assimilated into the Medieval holidays of All Hallows’ Eve, Hallowmas, and All Souls’ Day (October 31, November 1 and 2).
So how does Halloween relate to the Maya? A world away from Europe?
Well, with the arrival of Columbus there followed fortune-seekers, soldiers and missionaries flooding the Americas.
And these – often, over-zealous – Christians were hell-bent on local conversions.
Like that earlier era in Europe, local customs were incorporated into conquering Christian beliefs to win over converts. So an ancient Mayan ritual of worshiping the Gods of Death (Ixtab & Ah Puch) became a day for dead relatives.
And in other parts of Mexico, Aztec customs also became part of this colonizing process. (Although the Spanish believed they were rescuing the natives from the grips of Satan. You know – human sacrifices, trophy skulls, etc).
Hanal Pixán – meaning: ‘Food of the Souls’ – is celebrated on October 31st across Mayan Mexico
For Hanal Pixan, Maya decorate tables with flowers, traditional candies made of pumpkin, yuca, sweet potato, and also with tortillas, bread, maize. And with fruit like mandarins and grapefruit, alongside cigarettes and strong liquor.
There’s a skull grinning at me. I gulp my beer. He looks menacing – glad he’s dead.