DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS IS NOT HALLOWEEN!
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican and Mexican-American holiday celebrated on November 1st and November 2nd. It is a special time where we celebrate the connection between life and death. Families honor their loved ones that have passed away by making thoughtful offerings in the form of altars.
Some people celebrate the holiday for the whole month of October, and some make a distinction between November 1 (el Día de los Angelitos, the day for children) and November 2 (the day for adults). The holiday has evolved as a unique mixture of indigenous traditions and customs derived from All Souls Day in the Catholic religion.
THE CYCLE OF LIFE AND DEATH IS INEVITABLE SO WE MAY AS WELL ENJOY OUR TIME WHILE WE’RE LIVING
But, how can life and death be celebrated at the same time? Because it’s natural: the cycle of life and death is inevitable so we may as well enjoy our time while we’re living. The message of the holiday is to love your life because everything is impermanent.
While the holiday’s observances include spending time in cemeteries, making shrines and offerings to the dead, and displaying artistic representations of skulls and skeletons, the mood of the occasion is festive and not morbid.
Death isn’t seen as the end of one’s life, but as a natural part of the life cycle. The dead continue to exist much as they did in their lives, and come back to visit their loved ones every year.
Similarities between Day of the Dead and Halloween cannot be ignored, but that doesn’t mean that the holidays are interchangeable. In fact, they are quite different. Death, skeletons, ghosts and spirits, spiders, owls, and bats and dressing up in costume are associated with both Day of the Dead and Halloween, and both holidays are offshoots of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days.
However, the tone and purpose of the holidays is very different. Halloween’s images of skeletons and spirits emphasize the spooky, gruesome, and macabre. People scare themselves at the thought of spirits threatening the living world. On Day of the Dead, the focus isn’t on being scared, it’s on celebrating with one’s family—alive and dead—and remembering loved ones.
Day of the Dead is about seeing death as another stage following life, not something to be faced with fear. Halloween and Day of the Dead are both celebrated in Mexico and U.S. and families often draw traditions from both holidays.
Written by Olivia Tamzarian, Education Coordinator, Mexic-Arte Museum (Austin, Texas)