Beyond Halloween


Samantha Olivares-Ramirez, Special Features Editor

It’s that time of year again: Spirit stores and pumpkin patches popping up everywhere, families stockpiling candy, and the nevering ending loop of your favorite Halloween movies on TV. But as you get yourself ready for October 31, make sure to prepare yourself for another important holiday that follows right behind it.

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1 and 2, otherwise known as All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Many people think that Dia de los Muertos is the Hispanic version of Halloween, but there are actually a lot of differences between the two holidays. Halloween is generally known to portray death as something to be feared. Dia de los Muertos, on the other hand, celebrates the deceased and their memory.

Originating in Mexico but celebrated in many other countries — including Guatemala, Brazil and Spain — Dia de los Muertos combines indigenous Aztec rituals with the Catholicism brought by the Spanish in the early 1500s. The original Aztec harvest holiday was a month long but the Spanish conquistadores condensed it down to two days so it would coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. From here the holiday evolved, taking new meanings as time passed.

November 1 is known as Dia de los Inocentes (Day of Innocents) or Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). On this day the souls of children who have passed away are welcomed back for the celebration. On November 2, the adult souls arrive to greet their families.

The way we celebrate today originated in the belief that the dead would be insulted by sadness. This is why the day celebrates their past lives with food, drink, parties and some of the activities they enjoyed while living. The central belief of the holiday is that the spirits of deceased loved ones are allowed to join the living on those days to commune with them. Family members visit the graves of their deceased and often have vigils or leave offerings on the tombstones as well.

The vigils that are held often times are surrounding an altar made for the deceased family member or members. Altars are a crucial part of the holiday celebrations. They are decorated with candles, calaveras (sugar skulls), cempazuchitl — also known as marigolds — flowers,  beverages, food and clothes. These are called ofrendas, or offerings, that are given to the deceased according to their personal preferences. Also, because of the holiday’s background, there are symbols of both indigenous and Catholic background incorporated into each altar.

Finally, about the part of Dia de los Muertos everyone knows and loves. The traditional calaveras, or sugar skulls as they are known in the United States, are what most people think of when Dia de los Muertos is mentioned. But in reality they are only a small part of the celebrations.

Their origins go back farther than the holiday itself, but the most famous of these skulls is the Calavera Catrina. The version that is seen today is based off of Jose Guadalupe Posada’s depiction of a fancy female skeleton that was meant to represent the Europhile elite during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. But the original Catrina comes from the Aztec tale of Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead.

El Dia de los Muertos comes with a lot of traditions that go back centuries. In honor of this, LatinX is planning to start a new one right here at Presentation. To celebrate and learn more about this amazing holiday, stay tuned for announcements about LatinX’s upcoming Dia de los Muertos Celebration on November 2.