At first glance, the Mexican custom of the Día de Muertos — the Day of the Dead — may sound much like the U.S. custom of Halloween. After all, the celebration traditionally starts at midnight the night of Oct. 31, and the festivities are abundant in images related to death.
But the customs have different origins, and their attitudes toward death are different: In the typical Halloween festivities, death is something to be feared. But in the Día de Muertos, death — or at least the memories of those who have died — is something to be celebrated.
The Día de Muertos, which continues until Nov. 2, has become one of the biggest holidays in Mexico, and celebrations are becoming more common in areas of the United States with a large Hispanic population. Its origins are distinctly Mexican: During the time of the Aztecs, a monthlong summer celebration was overseen by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. After the Aztecs were conquered by Spain and Catholicism became the dominant religion, the customs became intertwined with the Christian commemoration of All Saints' Day on Nov. 1.
Specifics of the celebration vary with region, but one of the most common customs is the making of elaborate altars to welcome departed spirits home. Vigils are held, and families often go to cemeteries to fix up the graves of their departed relatives. Festivities also frequently include traditional foods such as pan de muerto (bread of the dead), which can conceal a miniature skeleton.
You can learn more about the Day of the Dead from About en Español. Be sure to check the brief glossary on the following page if you need help with any holiday-specific vocabulary:
- Galería de imágenes de Día de muertos
- Cómo armar tu ofrenda de Día de muertos
- Los elementos de una ofrenda
- El día de muertos y la noche de brujas
- Haz un altar de Muertos con tus hijos
- Todos los muertos: creencias, tabúes y celebraciones
- Celebra el Halloween
- Pan de muerto
- Cinco formas de celebrar a la Muerte
- Postales del Día de Muertos en México
- Decoraciones para Halloween
And elsewhere on the About network: