Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Celebration

Difference Between Day of the Dead and Halloween Banner

With origins tracing back to the traditional celebration of Samhain in the Celtic religion, Halloween began as a festival to keep ghosts at bay and has grown and evolved into the celebration of parties and costumes that we all love today. The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain was celebrated to observe the end of summer, to celebrate the harvest of crops, and to usher in the cold dark winter season. The ancient Celts believed the line between worlds was blurred on the night of the new year, allowing for the living and the dead to mingle. The belief was that the spirits of those who had departed would return on this night—a haunting, of sorts—causing damage and fright, as well as connecting with the Druid priests, making it easier on this night for them to predict the future. The prophecies helped sustain the people’s faith and beliefs, as well as provided comfort through the long, hard days of winter.

The Druids would hold large celebrations on this day, dressing up, sometimes wearing masks to disguise themselves from the ghosts; building large sacred bonfires; and making sacrifices by burning crops and livestock to impress the Celtic gods. The fire was used to relight their hearth fires—the sacred flame believed to offer protection during the harsh winter to come.

As the Roman Empire conquered Celtic lands, celebration of Samhain became part of Roman festivals of Feralia, held in late October to mourn the dead, and a festival celebrating Pomona (aka the goddess of fruit and trees). This is said to be tied to the Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples. 

At the time of the 9th century, the church’s celebration of All Souls Day was held on November 2 and had encompassed the older celebrations of the dead. Bonfires were held, parades, and dressing up as angels, demons, and devils became the tradition. All Saints Day was also called All-Hallows, and it fell on the day after the traditional Celtic festival of Samhain, which became known as All Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween. 

As people began to emigrate to America, the celebration of Halloween spread to the New World and began to take on new elements and traditions until it evolved into the spooky celebration that we all know and love today. It became less of a religious celebration and more about community, taking on the well-known symbols of a black cat, a jack-o-lantern, and a witch’s hat.

Information courtesy of ourcommunitynow.com

Dia De Los Muertos:

This celebration is to remember, respect, celebrate, and honor those who have passed on in death. The holiday takes place from November 1-2, though, celebrations can begin as early as October 28. Día de los Muertos is about celebrating and lifting up the memories of those that have died, inviting the spirits back into their homes for the holiday to be part of the family.

The holiday began in ancient times, with indigenous peoples, the tribes of the Aztec, the Nuhau, and the Toltec people. Mourning the dead was not honor, it was disrespect in those cultures, rather they believed the dead were still among the community—they were part of life, alive in spirit and in memory. On Día de los Muertos, the dead returned to the earth, crossing the celestial plane in the time that coincides with the fall harvest.

The holiday is strongly associated with the beliefs of the early people of what is now Mexico. The dead move on to a place known as the Land of the Dead, Chicunamictlán. This place has nine levels that the deceased must work through to reach the final peace and rest in Mictlán, and those still living provide sustenance and tools for the journey through annual rituals held to honor those who had passed.

Today's celebrations are a combination of these early traditions and other Catholic and Christian celebrations that followed, such as the earlier-mentioned All Souls Day, as well as practices from Europe and the people of Spain.

It is believed that when family members leave offerings of food, lit candles, and pictures of their departed loved ones on an alter, an ofredna, in their homes or in graveyards, it will welcome their souls back to the land of the living. People dress up as skeletons in fun, but also, to attract the souls of those who have passed on, wanting to keep them earthbound. Music, feasting, dancing, and more activities make this holiday a celebration of life.

Information courtesy of ourcommunitynow.com