Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead)


The Day of the Dead
Fall is my favorite time of year for so many reasons. The weather, the changing leaves, the fashion, the food—I love it all! And I’m totally one of those moms who LOVES Halloween.

My hubby and I still dress up and get super excited to help the kids plan their costumes. But there’s one thing about this time of year that a lot of people in our country get a little twisted:

Dia de los Muertos is NOT the same thing as Halloween.

I get it. The skeletons, the skulls, the bright colors and the timing are all similar to our country’s celebration of Halloween. There are some major differences though. Let me explain.

  1. Dia de los Muertos is a predominantly Mexican holiday, dating back to the Aztecs, celebrating family and loved ones who have died. November 1st is Day of the Innocents when the spirits of children who have passed on are honored. November 2nd celebrates adults who are deceased.
  2. This holiday is not meant to be morbid. The belief is that those who have died would not want to be mourned but rather have their lives celebrated. Hence the parties and food!
  3. The spirits of the dead are thought to join in the festivities. It is the time of year that those souls are closest to the living. It is on these days that we feel strong connections to our loved ones.
  4. Those who celebrate set up altars, or ofrendas, to honor the dead. Flowers, food, candles, and decorations are placed on the altar as gifts to the deceased.
  5. The holiday has a deep spiritual element. The makeup, beautiful clothing, gorgeous marigolds, and decorative skulls are meant to honor the dead, not meant to be Halloween costumes. While Halloween has the perspective of death being spooky and frightening, Dia de los Muertos views death as a natural part of life.

Each year my family puts up an ofrenda in our home and decorates it together.

It is deeply symbolic, and each year we try to add a new element. We cook traditional Mexican food and offer some to the spirits of our ancestors. We reflect upon those we have lost, those who have come before us, and we remember our connection to them. And we add names and pictures of our loved ones to the altar so that we never forget them. It serves as a gateway to our past, the strength of our family, the solidity of our roots. This is why dressing as a muerto (Day of the Dead figure) or painting one’s face like a calavera (skull) is not considered a Halloween costume.

Dia de los Muertos is a fascinating holiday, rich in beauty and tradition. I hold it dear to my heart, even more so as I pass this tradition on to my children.

The Day of the Dead