By Tiffany Simons: DJ of ¡¿Qué Hay De Nuevo?!
Good guess, but, it’s not the ‘Mexican version’ of the American holiday Halloween. There are masks, cemeteries, and celebration involved, though.
Día de los Muertos means, Day of the Dead. It is a national holiday for the people of or from México. There is a common misconception that it is the quote, “Mexican Halloween” because of the sugar skulls, painted faces, and cemeteries involved.
But unlike Halloween where cemeteries are the place of fear and ‘pop-up’ screams, El Día de los Muertos is a ritual where cemeteries are gatherings of different families to come together celebrate the spirits of loved ones. In other words, those who are dead are celebrated and prayed for. It’s origination is from the indigenous Aztecs of México.
The Spaniards did not see death as a rebirth, nor did they agree with the Aztec ritual of celebrating the dead. But the tradition was so strong and so important to the people; the Spaniards decided to combine Día de los Muertos with their Catholic holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. It is believed during the 1st and 2nd of November, spirits come to visit and eat with their families.
On the Day of the Dead, each family has their own variation in how they honor their loved ones. It is common to celebrate by having ofrendas (offerings): putting flowers, especially marigolds, on altars the families have built for them, as well as pictures, candles, sugar skulls, and other foods on them. A popular food item is pan de muerto (una receta deliciosa). Dancing is also a common way of celebrating and honoring those who have passed.
There are families who build altars in their own homes to honor and celebrate instead of going to the cemeteries. Some families do both activities! Calaveras or calacas, skulls, are very important to this ritual holiday; this is where the painted faces and skull masks come from. They represent death and rebirth combined. In this culture, death isn’t an end, it’s a new beginning!
On November 1st, All Saints’ Day, angelitos, young children and infants, are honored and celebrated.
On November 2nd, All Souls’ Day, all souls, including spirits, are honored and celebrated.
These are days of alegría (happiness), no miedo! (sadness)