October can be described as one of the spookiest times of year. In most North Americans minds it brings about images of witches, pumpkins, and most of all candy. But south of the American border the time is celebrated in a much different manner. It’s called the Day of the Dead.
In Mexico the celebrations isn’t just one day, it last several. From October 28 to November 2nd. Many outsiders see the Day of the Dead as a strange embrace of death amongst an entire nation. In reality, it is a celebration of life, how precious it is, and how each life must eventually come to an end.
In Mexican culture, the Day of the Dead celebrates the idea that the soul does not die, it travels to a place of peaceful rest where they are able to live on. It is the day that the souls of the passed loved ones may be welcomed back to visit the living.
The idea of the scary toys, festivals and parades serve a very important purpose for the children as well as the parents. The children are given toys and taken to watch the giant skeletons and skulls stomp down the street, it makes their imagination use and enjoy these images, while it makes most other kids get nightmares.
Alters are also a major part of the culture and history behind the Day of the Dead. The main point of many Mexican homes during the celebration days is an alter. Most are created on a low-level table. It is covered, almost cluttered, with pictures and items that the remembered soul may find comforting to have along their travels to and from their place of rest. The final question remains, how does the Day of the Dead relate to Halloween?
Spanish Conquistadores that landed in modern day Mexico first documented the Day of the Dead. The local Aztecs were reported to have a strange holiday that celebrated death. After the 15th century, the name Dial de los Mueros came forth from the mouths of more and more Mexican citizens. The Spanish tried desperately to stomp out this strange and almost pagan ritual.
They couldn’t understand that it was celebrating the never-ending soul, not a morbid love of death. The Spanish, obviously, were unable to vanquish this holiday, but they did have a lasting effect on it. The Spanish moved the date of the holiday to match the All Soul’s Day of Roman Catholic beliefs and shortened the month-long celebration to just a few days.
The look of Halloween is much like that of the Day of the Dead, but really that’s where most likenesses end. The children of Halloween are let loose to follow their parents, collecting candy door-to-door, and most times from perfect strangers. The parades are light-filled spectacles with giant spiders, witches, and vampires.
How does the Day of the Dead relate to Halloween? The bottom-line is, the two celebrations are timed together thanks to the Catholic Church trying to limit or eraser what they saw as a pagan holiday.