Remembering Ancestors – Pagan Roots, Halloween, Day of the Dead

family history month and pagan roots

Last evening a friend and I strolled through San Diego’s Old Town.

Old Town is called the birthplace of California.  As you can imagine, we have strong Hispanic roots here, as the Spanish friars built the first of the 21 California Missions in San Diego, in 1769.

Mission San Diego Alcala

The Ancestors and Rituals

But what has this to do with Family History?

It fascinates me to learn how many of our present-day holidays or rituals are based on those of ancient Pagan rituals. (Pagan rituals/holidays were centered around the seasons and crops, i.e. planting and harvesting, death and birth).  Their Yule became our Christmas; their Samhain (pronounced SOW-wen) became Halloween. You might think it’s a stretch to associate Samhain with Family History Month, but here’s my thinking.

Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the time to honor the dead. Christianity embraced All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day to honor those who are no longer with us. Hispanic cultures celebrate the Day of the Dead (dias de los muertos) – a feast day that honor ancestors, held the first days of November. And the secular celebrate Halloween.

And now, in the same month as most rituals honoring those who have departed, comes Family History Month. I don’t know who created the official Family History Month, but I’ve often wondered if they choose October because of it’s connection to Samhain, Halloween, All Soul’s Day, and the Day of the Dead.

While walking through Old Town, I took several photos as October here is filled with Day of the Dead imagery. I spoke with one shop owner who told me about the huge celebrations here during the last week of October – first days of November. Apparently Old Town is filled with about 60,000 visitors.

There are several altars set up throughout, holding photos of ancestors and things associated with the departed such as favorite foods. Visitors can add their own remembrances to the altars so Patti and I decided we’d come back down during that week and bring photos of our mothers to be added to the altars. Prayers are said for the dead and a celebration is held in their honor.

Bottom line (at least for me): I’ve always believed that that genealogy, itself, is all about honoring the departed. As long as we remember their names, they are still with us and their legacy lives on.

What do you think?

Photos of San Diego’s Old Town

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