In Mexico they actually celebrate two creepy Fall holidays! Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead began as an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl. This festival predates Halloween by almost a thousand years. Halloween has also been celebrated in Mexico for the past 40 years and gains popularity every year, especially among children. The Halloween celebration has, however, been Mexicanized somewhat. Mexican trick-or-treaters, do not shout “trick-or-treat,” which is difficult to pronounce in Spanish. Instead, they chant queremos Halloween (we want Halloween). Halloween falls on October 31st, just two days before Día de los Muertos.
The two observances are historically linked. Both days derive from related dates in the Catholic calendar. Halloween (October 31st) means All Hallows’ Eve, November 1st being All Hallows’ Day, and November 2nd, the Day of the Dead, is All Souls’ Day. That means that Halloween and the Day of the Dead have been related since medieval times. And nowadays both are part of contemporary Mexican society.
The festival contains many varied and colorful traditions. Here are a few for your reading pleasure.
The “calavera” (skull) is a humorously morbid poem which is addressed to a friend or public figure. This genre of poetry has its origin in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, in early 17th century Spain. Celebrants make masks, called calacas (colloquial term for “skeleton”), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits, for celebrating this “fiesta” often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.
Yellow/orange marigolds called cempasuchil are used to adorn Mexican graves. Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.
A small platform called the “altar de muertos,” is sometimes dedicated to the memory of departed loved ones. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing, so that when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead; some will also dress up as the deceased.
I don’t know about you but I hope to have an opportunity to get out and enjoy some of these festivities here in America. Two Halloweens is ALWAYS better than one!