Halloween, for many years, has been closely associated with the South American tradition of Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos). Yes, they both seem very similar as they both have been portrayed as spooky and scary, however, both have two different symbolic meanings and are not related at all. Day of the Dead is a 2-day celebration where it is believed that the passageway between the real world and the spirit world is open so our deceased loved ones can come back to visit us.
Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd of each year. It is believed that on the 1st of November the children who have passed come back to visit and celebrate as little angels (angelitos), and on the following day, November 2nd, the deceased adults (difuntos) return to visit their loved ones and celebrate in the festivities.
Origins of Dia de Muertos
When the Spaniards came to Mexico and introduced Catholicism to the indigenous people traditions and beliefs of both cultures were combined to create their own customs.
Dia de Muertos came to be from a mixture of the Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess, Mictecacihuatl, with the Catholic influence. Mictecacihuatl is the “lady of the dead” and it is said that she watches over the bones of the dead and swallows the stars during the day.
The church rejected the Aztec’s beliefs and turned it into All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day making it on 2 days to fall into the catholic calendar. Mexicans have since transformed it into a truly unique holiday that they honor every year. In true spirit of the South American culture, this day is full of people, food, celebrations, music and colour.
Preparations for the day
Many South American countries celebrate the two-day event in their own distinct ways to welcome back their passed loved ones, however the ultimate beliefs remain the same. Mexicans provide a full range of traditions full of colour and culture.
Similar to how Aztecs offered water and food to the deceased to help them on their journey to the land of the dead, Mexican families set up beautifully decorated altars in their homes and place photos of the loved ones they have lost along with water, the loved one’s favorite food and drink, flowers, bread, and other items that celebrate the dead person’s life.
Marigold flowers are predominantly used on alters and burial sites as it is thought to guide the spirits back with their intense color and pungent smell.
Skulls (known as sugar skulls) are decorated with paint, glitter and beads, are a huge part of the two-day event. Skulls originally were used during rituals in the Aztec era and passed on as trophies during battles.
The skulls (calaveras) and skeletons (calacas) that are so prominent in today’s festivities came about at the beginning of the 19th century when cartoonist and social activist José Guadalupe Posada drew La Catrina to protest the Mexican people’s desire to look more European. La Catrina has become one of the biggest symbols of Day of the Dead with people painting their faces with skulls and flowers.
These are perforated paper which is an integral part of Mexican culture. The art comes from the Aztec tradition of chiseling spirit figures on wood. It is used during Day of the Dead celebrations by stringing them on the altars and in the streets. Ofrendas showcase fire, water, earth, and air. Papel picados represent air on the altar.