At first glance, Halloween and Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) can easily resemble one another. Both involve skeletons, costumes, death, spooky stories, and sweets. Though similar, the two holidays possess striking differences in traditions and tone.
Halloween: A Night of Darkness and Terror
The ancient origins of Halloween demonstrate it is a celebration based on dead invisible spirits or demons. The holiday is often associated with evil, the devil, fear, and violence. Tom Sanguinet, a former high priest in the Celtic tradition of Wicca (witchcraft), mentioned, “Halloween is purely and absolutely evil.”
The spooky holiday originates from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France from the Celtic Festival of Samhain. The festival was held in honor of Samhain, lord of death and haunting spirits. The day it was celebrated on marked the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter time which was also associated with death.
Over time, Pope Gregory III implemented All Saints Day on November 1 in honor of all saints. All Saints Day incorporated some of the predominant themes and traditions of the Celtic Festivals. Therefore, the evening before this new holiday became known as All Hallows Eve which is now known as Halloween.
As new immigrants started immigrating to the United States, mostly due to the Irish Potato Famine, they began to popularize the celebration of Halloween throughout the nation. Over time, people incorporated new activities to celebrate this holiday including trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, spooky stories and costumes. Overall, both Halloween and Día de Los Muertos’ were inspired by a central theme- death. However, they both attribute a different meaning to the word.
Día de Los Muertos: Colorful Festivities and Celebrations
Día de Los Muertos pays respect to those who passed, but it does not dwell on death. The goal of the holiday is to honor and demonstrate love and respect to those who have passed away. It is not a time of mourning. Instead, it is a celebration of life, ancestors, culture, and the meaning behind our own lives here on earth.
Why the Heavy Use of Skeletons Then?
Skeletons are a predominant symbol for Halloween and Día de Los Muertos. But the meaning behind skeletons in México is very different in comparison to the United States. In México, the skeleton signifies the dead playfully mimicking those who are living and not a macabre symbol at all.
How is Día De Los Muertos is Celebrated in México?
During Día de Los Muertos festivities, most Mexicans honor their ancestors who have passed away by visiting their graves. Relatives have a celebration consisting of food, drink, and prayer as if the deceased was in their presence. The people of México also create elaborate, colorful altars also known as “ofrendas” in their homes. These altars are decorated with beautiful marigold flowers (cempazuchitl), papel picado, candles, incense, decorated sugar skulls, and items the person enjoyed during their time on earth as a tribute to their loved ones.
Loved ones decorate the altars with photographs of the deceased. Altars are also decorated with the loved one’s favorite food and items relating to their occupation while on earth. For example, if they were a construction worker, they would take a hammer and nails to leave on their grave. If they were a shoemaker, they would take tools the deceased used to create shoes. The way this holiday is celebrated throughout México varies. While some states in México go all out on Día de Los Muertos, other states might not.
How is Day of the Dead Celebrated Locally in the United States?
Festivities are also held in honor of those who have passed in the United States. While celebrations can differ throughout the nation, they are often loud, colorful and festive. Processions are held in which people dressed as skeletons parade through the city while banging drums for Aztec dancers as burning incense fills the air. Mariachi music is also played throughout the procession as community members dress up in colorful costumes and vibrant masks to honor their muertitos.
Festivities in the United States also feature traditional food and drink such as tacos, agua de horchata and churros. This year, La Ultima Parada in San José, CA will honor the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead through a collection of cultural festivities, vibrant dances, and musical performances.
La Ultima Parada: A Celebration of Life on the Day of the Dead
To kick off La Ultima Parada on Saturday, October 27, the Alum Rock Altar Walk (6 p.m.) will feature altars and other art installations at 30 locations in the three business blocks surrounding the Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP) in San Joséé, CA.
Following the altar walk, the Cumbia Dance Party (8 p.m.) at the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza will feature music group La Clandestina. This event is FREE.
On Sunday, 12pm-8pm, La Ultima Parada will feature a variety of epic music, vibrant dances, and fun activities to delight the entire family. La Ultima Parada 2018 will feature a Mercadito with over two dozen Día de Los Muertos themed retailers as well as a wide variety of delicious food and beverages. This event is $10 for adults and FREE for children under 10.
Do not miss out on celebrating Día De Los Muertos this year. Purchase your tickets now via Eventbrite!
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If your organization or business is interested in reaching a specific ethnicity, culture, and/or subculture in San Jose, CA and the larger Bay Area, do not hesitate to contact us today. We offer marketing consulting, social media management and branding.