The candy apples and masquerade balls that most of us associate with mention of Halloween only observe one aspect of the holiday. Halloween’s origins are ancient, sharing ties with both the Celtic festival of Samhain and All Saints Day, respectively observed on October 31st and November 1st . The Festival of the Dead is also celebrated during this time of the year, when the barrier between the physical and ethereal worlds is believed to be thinnest, permitting passage of spirits between the two.
An annual solemnity common to multiple cultures, this death custom invites celebrants to remember and honor deceased members of their families and communities. In Salem, Massachusetts, the Festival of the Dead is being observed with a series of events organized by Salem Witch Christian Day and taking place throughout late October. Two of these, known as the The Dumb Supper and The Mourning Tea hold particular fascination for me as a food writer.
The Dumb Supper: Dinner with the Dead
Thursday, October 28, 2010
From 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the historic Hawthorne Hotel, honor the dead with a banquet taken in absolute silence. Speaking is not permitted once the food service begins here where music selected in remembrance of the dearly departed is the only sound you’ll hear. Guests are invited to bring mementos and photographs to summon the souls of loved ones beyond the veil in this ancient rite. Courses are traditionally served in reverse, meaning that dessert gets presented first, successively followed by entrée, soup, salad, and appetizer. Accommodations can be made in the event of guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. The Dumb Supper menu can be viewed here.
The Mourning Tea
Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Hawthorne Hotel is also the site of this event with origins in Victorian mourning customs. Taking place from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Essex Room, High Tea will be accompanied by music, recitations of odes to the beauty of death, and traditional tea sandwiches. Place a photo with description of your deceased love one into the Salem Witches’ Book of the Dead to honor and invoke their spirits. At the ceremony’s end, everyone will drink a final cup of loose tea. Because messages from the other side are believed to appear in the patterns of tea leaves left in guests’ cups, hosts will interpret the patterns for signs of communication from beyond. Don’t forget to bring at least one photo of your loved one(s), with a single handwritten or printed page describing your feelings toward the deceased.
Whatever your religious or philosophical feelings toward Halloween might be, these two events strive to offer up a great deal of meaning. That plastic jack o’ lantern full of miniature chocolate bars and handfuls of candy corn that your trick-or-treating neighbors will likely receive can neither compare nor compete. Festival organizers would surely agree that life’s too short to miss out on these events.
Purchase tickets for The Dumb Supper at
Purchase tickets for The Mourning Tea at