Halloween is a long-standing American tradition and as the holiday approaches, youth and adults across the country anticipate a night of costumes and candy. Still, there is another, lesser-known holiday around Halloween time (specifically, on Nov. 2) that deserves recognition: El Dia de los Muertos, or, “Day of the Dead.”
According to Bradley Benton, an associate history professor at North Dakota State University, Day of the Dead isn’t nearly as ominous as it sounds. In fact, it is quite joyful. Many Latin American families use this day to remember and celebrate the lives of their deceased family members.
“Families often set up photos of loved ones and light candles or set out items of special significance to the deceased, such as favorite foods or drinks,” Benton said.
In many parts of Latin America, Day of the Dead is a very significant holiday. In Mexico, for example, Day of the Dead is often marked with elaborate celebrations and traditions.
“Families, business and other groups create large, elaborate artwork on the ground using flower petals (especially marigolds, known in many parts of Mexico as “cempasuchil”) as part of their remembrances.”
This significance of this holiday has some religious roots. According to Benton, Day of the Dead is a Mexican adaptation of both Catholic and Indigenous religious traditions.
“In the Catholic church, the feast of All Saints on Nov. 1 and the feast of All Souls on Nov. 2 are traditional times to remember those who have died in the last year or in years past,” Benton said.
“And Nov. 2 is a time when many Catholics go out and clean up gravesites. These traditions brought from Europe were combined in Mexico with Native traditions of remembering the dead to give us what we know today as Day of the Dead.”