It is not just Halloween

by Diana Castro-Vazquez

Día de Los Muertos translates to “Day of the Dead” in English. Día de Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday where families honor their deceased loved ones by laying out the favorite foods of the deceased to honor them.

Día de Los Muertos is mainly celebrated on Nov. 2. According to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on Oct. 31 and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours. The souls of adults can do the same on Nov. 2.

Día de Los Muertos goes back at least 3,000 years. Its earliest roots trace back to the Aztec people in what is now central Mexico. The Aztecs used skulls to honor the dead a millennium before the Day of the Dead celebrations emerged.

There is a common misconception that the Día de Los Muertos is the Mexican version of Halloween, but the two are very different holidays. Día de Los Muertos and Halloween do share some similarities like costumes and parades. However, on the Día de Los Muertos, it is believed that the border between the spirit world and the real world goes away. During this time, spirits come to the real world to celebrate with their family. Some families will go to the grave of the deceased and place the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased near the grave so that when the spirit comes
they can eat something.

Other families have “ofrendas” built into their homes. Ofrendas translates to “offerings.” Ofrendas can be decorated with candles, bright marigolds called cempasuchil and red cockscombs alongside food like stacks of tortillas and fruit. The flowers are meant to help build the spirit’s home. Candles light photos of the deceased and items left behind. Family members will talk with their deceased – tell them jokes, stories and poems.

During the holiday, you will see a lot of skulls and skeletons. Skulls and skeletons are the main images that are portrayed during Día de Los Muertos and people will wear skull masks and eat candy shaped into skulls. Pan de Muerto is a very popular type of sweet bread that is commonly eaten during this time as well.

In the 20th century, José Guadalupe Posada incorporated skeletal figures into his art, mocking politicians and commenting on revolutionary politics. His most well-known work, “La Calavera Catrina,” is of a female skeleton with makeup and dressed in fancy clothes. “La Calavera Catrina” was then adopted as one of the most recognizable Día de Los Muertos images.

There are a handful of movies that focus on the Día de Los Muertos or that feature a scene with the holiday. Most notably, the 2017 film “Coco” is a movie that focuses on the Día de Los Muertos. Miguel, the main protagonist, travels to the Land of the Dead to learn the real history behind his family. “The Book of Life”, a 2014 film, also features the holiday.

For many Mexicans, it is very important to honor their dead. They will put out offerings, food and drinks for their deceased on the Día de Los Muertos holiday. Día de Los Muertos gives them specific days to honor the souls of their departed. Mary J. Andrade, author of eight books about the Day of the Dead writes, “People are really dead when you forget about them, and if you think about them, they are alive in your mind, they are alive in your heart.”

A poster about the Day of the Dead.

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