What Exactly Is Day Of The Dead?

It’s not Mexican Halloween. Don’t even call it that.

While Americans prepare to celebrate Halloween at the end of this month, Mexicans are getting ready for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Day).

Both holidays have a pagan origin. Both use the same colors of orange and black (with some purple mixed in). And death plays a part in both as well, although in different ways. Whereas death is something scary and feared on Halloween, it is something that is celebrated on Day of the Dead.

dayof.JPGThe Day of the Dead is a pre-Hispanic Mexican celebration that honors the dead from November 1 to November 2, coinciding with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The origins of Day of the Dead in Mexico predate the arrival of the Spanish. There are records of the ancient Maya, Purepecha and Totonaca tribes celebrating as far back as 3,000 years ago.

The festival that eventually became the Day of the Dead marked the ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar, near the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacíhuatl, known as the "Lady Death,” and Mictlantecuhtli, wife of the god of the land of the dead. The festivities were dedicated to the celebration of children and the lives of deceased relatives.

Nowadays, it is a Day of the Dead tradition to build altars in which people place a picture of their deceased loved one, surrounded by candles, orange flowers and her or his favorite drink and food.

Day of the Dead and its traditions are an important part of Mexican culture. One of the main aspects that make up our identity as a nation is the concept we have about life, death and all the traditions and beliefs that revolve around them. Don’t think that just because so many of our citizens go north, that we aren’t very proud of our culture, because we all are.

There are many families who are more inclined to celebrate All Saints Day, as they do in other Catholic countries. Coupled with this is the strong influence of the United States where, at least in border areas, Halloween is celebrated every year more often these days and in a greater number of Mexican households than ever before. That is why there is a concern among some Mexicans who want to preserve the Day of the Dead as part of Mexican culture. But many Mexicans believe that the Day of the Dead is a holiday capable of including non-traditional festivities, like wearing costumes, without diminishing its cultural importance. Here in Cabo, our children know that if they approach Americans, they will be given something. They go around downtown, hold out sacks, and holler out, “Halloween!” Makes our boss crazy that she can’t get them to sing out “trick or treat” They just don’t get the trick and the treat stuff, she sighs.

Here in Cabo, where there are so many foreign tourists and expats, Halloween and Day of the Dead have started to become intermingled. Perhaps this is a good thing; two holidays that can bring us all together to celebrate.

In our office we have the boss’s silly paper Halloween decorations, (which scare no one), dangling among our full size metal Catrina sculpture that she paid way too much for. (Boy, did they see that foreigner coming.) Anyway, our office is a mixture of both cultures. Pretty cool, as she would say.