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What is El Día de los Muertos?

Updated on November 1, 2015

Day of the Dead Celebrations in Rural Mexico

November 1st and 2nd are celebrated in Mexico as the Day of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos.

These two dates coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the Christian Church and are actually a fusion of the ancient Aztec celebration of the dead and the Christian days honoring those who have departed this life.

Couple Dressed in Costume for El Día de los Muertos

Couple Dressed in Costume at anEl Día de los Muertos Parade
Couple Dressed in Costume at anEl Día de los Muertos Parade | Source

El Día de los Muertos and Halloween

While El Día de los Muertos is NOT the Mexican version of Halloween the two celebrations are indirectly related in that both occur in late Autumn and both involve a connection between our world and the world of spirits.

The religious holidays, All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd) do provide an additional link of sorts because both the Day of the Dead and Halloween are pre-Christian celebrations that the Church re-directed toward Christianity.

The name Halloween is a variation of the holiday's older name All Hallows Eve or the evening before All Saints Day.

El Día de los Muertos Family Shrine

Family honoring their ancestors on El Día de los Muertos
Family honoring their ancestors on El Día de los Muertos | Source

El Día de los Muertos in the American Southwest

The American Southwest was originally a part of Spanish New Spain and later Mexico so the Mexican and Spanish culture is a part of the culture of the Southwest just as the English culture is very noticeable in the Northeast and French in Louisiana.

Many traditions such as luminaria, the practice of decorating homes at Christmas by placing candles in paper bags, and observing El Día de los Muertos have continued to be observed on a small scale in the southwest by descendants of the original Spanish/Mexican settlers.

Immigration from Mexico in the decades following World War II has increased the number of people observing these Mexican customs. Of course non-Mexican neighbors began to notice and started joining in the El Día de los Muertos celebrations as well as decorating with luminaria at Christmas time.

As El Día de los Muertos began to spread beyond the immigrant community it take long for the media and marketers to take notice and begin helping to popularize it further.

Today El Día de los Muertos is becoming more popular and well known among the American population as a whole.

El Día de los Muertos Skeleton Figure

Skeleton figures are a popular El Día de los Muertos Decoration
Skeleton figures are a popular El Día de los Muertos Decoration | Source

Skeletons are a Popular El Día de los Muertos Symbol

Skulls and full skeletons are a common and popular decorative figure for El Día de los Muertos.

Before the introduction of Christianity, the native Indians of Mexico used to observe El Día de los Muertos not only remembering their deceased ancestors but also by opening the graves of their ancestors and cleaning their skeletons, decorating their graves and praying for them. El Día de los Muertos was a family gathering which included both living and dead members.

Today skulls carved out of sugar are a common ornament sold today. Instead of the bones of the dead, people create little alters containing pictures and other mementos in honor and remembrance of their deceased ancestors.

© 2007 Chuck Nugent


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Aprendi mucho

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Richard Thomas - I have never heard of Spain's "El día de los Difuntos" and when I did a quick Google Search on the term everything I came up with dealt with Mexico's El Dia de los Muertos celebration. So I assume they are the same but maybe someone else can elaborate more on this.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    • Richard Thomas profile image

      Richard Thomas 

      8 years ago

      Is it similar to "El día de los Difuntos" in Spain?

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      9 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Vicki Donkersley - Thank you for this information.

      Here is a link to Tucson, Arizona's Tohono Chul Park webpage where people can find information about all of the park's activities. If they click on the Fall Newsletter link for 2009 they will find, on page 4, more information (and a great picture) about the Dia de los Muertos exhibit in the Gallery which runs from August 27, 2009 through Nov 8, 2009.

      Thanks again for the comment and I will try to visit the exhibit myself in the next couple of weeks.


    • profile image

      Vicki Donkersley - Tohono Chul Gallery 

      9 years ago

      Just thought you might like to know about our art exhibit at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson - Dia de los Muertos-Ancient Roots/Contemporary Expressions, up through Nov 8, 2009. There are works by 39 Southwest artists (paintings, sculpture, photography, fiber, mixed media) and a fabulous Community Altar by Hank Tusinski. Visitors can leave a card or memento in memory of a loved one.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      11 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I wasn't aware of this ceremony. Looks llike they have a lot of fun with it. Good Hub.


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