Celebrate Day of the dead in Europe

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Sugar skull - Day of the Dead celebrations

Halloween is well known for its images of witches, ghosts and ghouls, crazy costumes and trick-or-treating. But for countries with a Roman Catholic heritage it's old news...

Instead, Day of the Dead celebrations (or Dia de Los Muertos as referred to in Latin countries) are becoming popular on European soil. Originating in Mexico, the 3-day festival, from the 1st to the 3rd of November honours ancestors who have passed away with colourful celebrations, including street parades, fancy costumes, food and music.

All Saints Day has long been celebrated in Catholic countries as a time of remembrance, both of saints and (of course!) mere mortals as well. Traditionally, it was a time to lay candles and flowers at the gravestones of loved ones, and give small gifts of sweets and toys to the kids.

It seems some European cities are taking a leaf out of the Mexicans’ book and planning festivities that are a joyful celebration of life rather than the slightly sombre activities of years gone by. Here’s what you can expect if you’re in Europe on November 1st:

Day of the Dead candle-lighting, Prague

Much like the Mexican celebrations, Prague’s festivities last for 3 days and involve a feast of sugar skulls and sweetbreads and the donning of elaborate calacas (masks) and costumes. Over here you can look at some pretty panoramas of the luminarias and paper flower garlands at nightfall.

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Cake-baking in Tyrol, Austria

Bake a nice sponge, but don’t dare eat so much as a spoonful because these cakes are to please (or should that be appease?) the passing spirits of dead people. And don’t forget to keep the room at a cosy temperature so they don’t get too nippy!

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Graveyard shift in Germany

All Saints Day PolandIn Catholic parts of Germany, as well as many parts of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, people light candles and place them on the tombstones of deceased relatives. In many Mediterranean countries, such as Spain and Portugal, flowers and ofrendas, small personal shrines, are also made. Particularly brave souls may also make like a Mexican and stay overnight at the cemetery.

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Leave dinner out for the dead, Brittany, France

Bretons in the northwest of France wait until midnight to kneel down at the graves of loved ones and anoint them with the ritual spilling of holy water or milk. Full plates of food are left out to make sure souls are still well nourished, even in death…

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Watch a performance of Don Juan Tenorio, Spain

A version of the myth of Don Juan, Spain’s longest running play is watched all over Spain to commemorate All Saints Day. Part of the story is set in Seville, the perfect place to bring the story alive. Check out the Teatro Alhambra who have staged performances in Granada and Seville in the past.

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Go door-to-door in Portugal

A bit like trick-or-treating (but early in the morning rather than late at night), in parts of Portugal children knock from door to door and say “Pão-por-Deus” which literally means “Bread of God”. In return children get sweets, chocolate and if they’re very lucky, money. Throughout the city bakers, butchers, and shop-owners  give away a little of their produce for free.

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Dia de Los Muertos by Jennifer Janviere & All Saints Day by John Thaxter, reproduced with thanks under a CC Attribution license 2.0