Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a traditional holiday in Mexico to celebrate life, and to honor and reconnect with deceased loved ones. The official “day of the dead” is on November 2nd, but the celebration starts a couple days beforehand on October 31st (referenced as “the days of the dead”).

At midnight on October 31st, spirits of departed infants and children, called angelitos (little angels), come visit with their families for the day. The following day, after the children leave on November 1st, the adults come to spend time and celebrate life with their families.

Though the festivities begin on October 31st, the Day of the Dead has nothing to do with Halloween. In fact, the perception given to the dead on Halloween is virtually the opposite of how the dead are thought of on the Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead is completely separate from Halloween, with different views on the dead and deceased. Halloween is a dark, gloomy, and spooky holiday filled with monsters, ghouls, and ghosts. The Day of the Dead is a much more light-hearted, happy, and nostalgic celebration of those who have passed on. Day of the Dead is also more personal and family-oriented, as households will build alters and offer food for their late relatives.

Before Spain’s influence on Mexico, graves were kept near home to keep the departed close to the family, as family is a pinnacle in Mexican culture. So grave sites are very important in this holiday, and people will go to the graveyard to celebrate. The festivities pursue in the graveyard as people honor the lives of the departed and remember their ancestors. Families will visit the graveyard and pull weeds, clean decries, and tidy up the grave sites.

At home, families build ofrendas (alters), colorfully decorated with traditional items sugar skulls, pan de Muertos (a special bread), and cempasuchil (marigolds). These areas are very personal and often include the deceased’s favorite things and foods. It is believed that the spirits who visit can enjoy the aromas and energies from these items.

The Day of the Dead is a result of cultures mixing. It features traditions from the indigenous people of Mexico and the Christian influences of Spain (hence the overlap with All Souls’ and All Saints’ Day). It is truly an interesting holiday that widely differs from the U.S. holiday of Halloween. The Day of the Dead is a celebratory occasion where families can come together and joyfully remember and be close to lost loved ones.

The Days of the Dead

  • October 31st – All Hallow’s Eve / Halloween
  • November 1st – The Day of the Children (Dia de los innocents) / All Saint’s Day
  • November 2nd – The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) / All Soul’s Day

Elsa Jimenez is a native Spanish speaker who was born and raised in a Hispanic country. She is an accomplished lawyer and translator who has been living and working in the U.S. for many years and is also a member of the American Translators Association.

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