Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)–No, It’s Not Really Mexican Halloween

calacasSome people think that El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is something like Halloween because it falls so near that holiday that was brought to America by European immigrants.

From what I’ve learned, it has more in common with Memorial Day than Halloween.  I suppose the connection between these two “dark” holidays comes with all of the artistic images of skeletons (calacas) that are used in connection with El Dia de los Muertos.  When the conquistadores from Spain arrived, like many other of the natives’ traditions, the invaders tried to put an end to this ritual; however, the best that they could do was to get it moved to the date of the Catholic All Saints Day.

The traditions vary by location in Mexico, but, in general, El Dia de los Muertos has been celebrated since pre-Hispanic times, with people going to the cemeteries, decorating graves, taking food and other gifts that their deceased loved ones might enjoy, and even spending time near the graves; all of this as a way to remember or perhaps “reunite” with the dead relatives.

candyskullOn a trip some years ago to Mexico City, I visited the Escuela Normal de Maestros (Normal School for Teachers) just to take a look at some famous paintings that are housed there.  It was just about this same time of year, and in one building on campus, the students had set up “Day of the Dead” exhibits, which showed a wide variety of rituals for celebrating this holiday across the whole of Mexico.  Everywhere in Mexico City, there were vendors selling little skull candies and ofrendas, which seem to me somewhat of the “Hallmark-ing” of the ancient event.

What I like most about El Dia de los Muertos are all the cartoon-like skeletons, almost always seeming to be having fun.  Maybe they are mocking death.  To me, these calacas make death seem much happier and bright, rather than the morbid, dark association that most of us north of the border have.