Monday, November 1, 2021

Ghost Suppers And The Day Of The Dead

For Christians, November 1st is All Saint’s Day, followed by tomorrow’s observance of All Souls’ Day. Mexicans go one better and use both November 1st and 2nd to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a very creepy way to honor those who’ve passed over if you ask me.


If you wish to do a full cultural immersion approach to remembering dead ancestors I vastly prefer the Native American tradition of “Ghost Suppers” held by the Anishinaabe peoples of Michigan, the Odawa, Ojibwa and Potawatomi tribes.  It seems to be a bit of a moveable feast, although always sometime in November as the barrier between the living and the spirit world is said to be weaker during this season. It is usually celebrated on either November 1st or the first weekend of the month.

The Ghost Supper, also known as “Spirit Feast,” is a communal gathering to honor and remember ancestors and loved ones who have departed from the physical world. A ceremonial bonfire is mandatory, as it represents a portal for the ancestral spirits to return to enjoy the meal. The fire is lit at dusk and put out at dawn. Tobacco, along with small offerings of all the food prepared for the feast are thrown in the fire as offerings to the dead.

The dinner begins with a “smudging” over the food – a blessing that consists of the burning of sage. The feast itself is similar to a Thanksgiving potluck including traditional dishes such as turkey and dressing, venison, wild rice, fry bread, potatoes, squash, corn soup and smoked whitefish. It is customary to leave doors unlocked during Ghost Suppers so that people (and spirits) may enter freely. In many places families hold Ghost Suppers  on the same night and neighbors, friends and relatives wander from house to house to share parts of the meal with each other and to honor all the ancestors.

What a sight these neighborhoods must be on a cool autumn night: people eerily traipsing from house to house in the intermingled mist and bonfire smoke.

mist walkers

Yes, I definitely prefer the customs of the Northern Native Americans to those of the Southern Northern Native Americans; I’ll take eerie to creepy any day.

day of the dead

So get your spirits on: you don’t have to live on a Reservation to honor your dead ancestors. You might want to think twice about leaving your door unlocked however, now that police are being defunded left and right and first responders everywhere are being fired for not getting vaccinated. No need to join your ancestors ahead of schedule.