Day of the Dead—or Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico, Latin America and the United States to honor those those loved ones that have passed. Though Halloween and Day of the Dead are celebrated close together (Day of the Dead is on November 1 and 2), the two holidays aren’t connected. Halloween has Celtic roots and Day of the Dead traces its origins to the Aztecs, Mayans and Toltecs in Central America and Mexico. After the Spanish arrived the ritual period was finalized on the days of two Spanish holidays – All Saints Day and All Souls Day – November 1st and 2nd.
In spite of its morbid name, the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, not death. The indigenous people that originated the celebration believed that death was was the beginning of new life when the spirits of the dead temporarily join the living. So the holiday is an opportunity to remember those who have departed with music and dancing.
Day of the Dead has it’s own symbols, just like Halloween, but instead of ghosts, pumpkins, skeletons, witches and black cats, the symbols are Monarch Butterflies (believed to hold the spirits of loved ones), Calaveritas de azucar (Sugar skulls), paper banners and a marigold native to Mexico who’s strong scent and bright colors create a path that leads the spirits from the afterlife to the family home. There, and at gravesites, the families sometimes create alters (ofrendas) as locations to celebrate.
The ofrendas are decorated with offerings to the spirits that represent the four elements: Fire – candles, water – to quench the thirst of the spirits, earth – traditional foods, and wind – the paper banners (paper picado) that have cut-outs to allow the souls to pass through.
Halloween has lost its spiritual beginnings, it’s now a night for children, candy and parties, but the spiritual roots of Día de los Muertos are still strong as people join in celebration of the memories and spirits of those they have lost.