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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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