The Attraction of the Day of the Dead

Although some might view it as macabre, the Latin American Dia de los Muertos features great beauty and wonderful ideology. Although some confuse this celebration with Halloween since they fall close together and share similar symbols, they represent completely different ideas and philosophies.

Day of the Dead display

My home display

Halloween started as a Celtic Festival of Samhain, which according to, was a time for bon fires and wearing costumes to fool ghosts and evil spirits. The Catholic Church in the eighth century designated November 1st as All Saints Day. Thus, many folks began thinking All Hallows Eve was the most evil day of the year while All Saints Day became one of the holy days. In truth, Samhain is actually a celebration of the end of the harvest and winter advancing. Evil intentions, devils, or ghosts have nothing to do with it. For the average man, it is easy to connect the fall of brown leaves. shriveling of plants, and longer, colder nights with a sense of death in general, but the holiday was never meant to be evil. Even now, modern pagans still celebrate Samhain more as a serious religious event that denotes the cyclic nature of the world as the year enters into its darkest phase.

Because of the Catholic Church’s historic influence in Mexico, the original Aztec tradition of honoring the dead became combined with All Saints Day to form Dia de los Muertos. The two-day celebration starts with the Day of the Innocents for the deceased children and then Nov 2nd is the actual Dia de los Muertos. The celebration is all about respecting and reconnecting with ancestors who are represented by the skulls and skeletons. In this festival, death is not frightening. It is just a doorway where old friends and family await beyond. The holiday features celebrating with family, offering flowers, playing music, and making colorful sugar skulls (calaveras de azucar). These small works of art are left as offerings along with flowers on the graves or on home alters (ofrendas) to symbolize the sweetness of life along with the bitterness of separation.

Basically, the holiday is two days of cleaning the graves, decorating them, and remembering those who have passed beyond. In our busy world of just dealing with the grind of living day to day, this day offers an opportunity to stop for a moment and celebrate, not mourn, those who we have lost. And they do it in a beautiful way with colorful artistry, flowers, and happiness. Considering how many TV shows, movies, and other media teaches us to fear death and the monsters that somehow lay beyond, Dia de los Muertos provides a special phenomenon to push all that fear aside and simply remember for a while the loved ones who may not be visible but are with us always.

That beats begging door to door for candy any day.


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