It’s finally fall, and time to start getting ready for cool weather, pumpkin spice everything and for the dead to walk the Earth. No, it’s not Halloween; it’s Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
The Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico, but is recognized by various countries worldwide, such as Spain and Italy.
The spirits of the dead are released from heaven and able to come home to earth on Nov. 1 and 2. Due to the common link of skull decorations and the similar time frame, it is easy to confuse Halloween and The Day of the Dead, but they reportedly represent different things.
“It’s everyone celebrating the lives of their loved ones, it’s a time for the spirits to come back,” said ISU student Yvonne Gutierrez, when referencing the Day of the Dead. Gutierrez’s mother grew up in Mexico celebrating the holiday.
Both Halloween and Día de los Muertos are syncretically Christian. They both existed independently of any Christian connection until the Catholic Church assimilated them while spreading Christianity throughout the world.
In the case of Day of the Dead, it was originally observed during the summer, and was moved to coincide with Allhallowtide. Allhallowtide includes All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Nov. 1 is dedicated to the angelitos, little angels, children who have died. Nov. 2 is when the adult spirits are said to come back. When the spirits come back, they spend time with their families, so the celebration is quite literally celebratory; it’s not a time for mourning.
To honor the spirits, altars can be built at home and decorated similarly to tombstones. Bright colors, marigolds and small skulls made of sugar and decorated with icing are some of the choice items. Families usually leave possessions or food and drink that they enjoyed in life, along with a picture surrounded by candles.
Seeing as both children and adults only get 24 hours to “come back”, in some regions people will reportedly sleep in cemeteries so they can spend as much time as possible with the spirits.
Gutierrez explained that she really enjoys the way that the dead are remembered in this holiday. According to her, it’s not a sad time, but an opportunity to spend time with loved ones who passed.
The Day of the Dead is becoming more often embraced in more and more cities across the United States. In many southwestern states, cities hold large community wide events. Most adhere to tradition but some of these areas are starting to add some local or even political elements to the holiday. In Los Angeles there is an annual celebration that highlights soldiers who died during the Iraq War.
“I don’t see it as disrespect,” said Jonathan Dominguez, former president of the Hispanic Awareness Leadership Organization or HALO. “Everyone has their own ways of celebrating or remembering the dead.”
It is still a growing trend in the U.S., though, and there is a possibility that it could be changed in ways more significant than highlighting a certain group.
“Because it’s a set tradition for [Hispanics], it could be maybe disrespectful if they change it but they still name it the same thing. Because a tradition fades away if people change the way they celebrate it but name it the same,” Dominguez said.