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Day of the Dead vs. Halloween

One of Mexico’s defining holidays is just around the corner: Dia de Muertos, the “Day of the Dead.” People on Isla Mujeres, the Mexican mainland, and the world over will be honoring the dearly departed with great reverence—not to mention plenty of celebration and mirth!

Dia de Muertos & All Hallows’ Eve

The Day of the Dead has deep roots in the indigenous cultures of Mexico—including the Olmec, the Aztecs, and the Maya—but today has also become aligned with the Christian observance of Allhallowtide, which also pays tribute to saints and others of the dead. The traditions now share the same timetable: October 31, November 1, and November 2.

How does the Day of the Dead compare with Halloween—aka All Hallows’ Eve, the first day of Allhallowtide? Well, there are certainly some parallels. Dia de Muertos welcomes the spirits of deceased family and friends who pay visits to their living loved ones—according to Aztec religion, from a sort of in-between place called Mictlan. Similarly, All Hallows’ Eve has long been understood as a time when the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead blurs a little: Originally, people donned costumes on Halloween to give roaming souls out and about during this special night the slip.

Jolly Skeletons & Decorated Skulls

Given the focus on death, it’s little surprise how prominently skeletons and skulls figure into both Day of the Dead and Halloween celebrations. But in the Mexican holiday, these bones don’t really have the scary associations of Halloween figures. Day of the Dead images commonly portray skeletons (calacas) in all-out revelry—strumming guitars, dressed for weddings, etc.—while sugar skulls (calaveras) are among the popular Dia de Muertos decorations and snacks.

Day of the Dead Altars

Calaveras and calacas—none more famous than La Calavera Catrinathat elegant lady skeleton first illustrated in the early 1900s by Jose Guadalupe Posada—often festoon the Day of the Dead altars erected in households and graveyards alike this time of year. These altars also may include bouquets, arches, and wreaths of marigolds (the “Flower of the Dead”) as well as provisions for the visiting spirits—including tamales, pan de muertos (Bread of the Dead), sweets for deceased children, and some cheery spirits such as tequila for deceased adults.

From feasts at home to cemetery processions to the graves of relatives, the Day of the Dead is a time for paying loving tribute to those who’ve passed on, and to exuberantly—not gloomily—mark the inseparable connection between life and death. Here at Privilege Aluxes, we wish you a happy Dia de Muertos!