Halloween and “Día de los Muertos” have different roots and yet both honor and celebrate the dead. Halloween has pagan beginnings but, absorbed by Christianity, it became a 3-day event that features what we call Halloween.
Halloween is celebrated on the evening of October 31st and at one time, was considered a prelude to All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on November the 2nd. Día de los Muertos is also celebrated on the same days but has a different beginning and a history that goes back some 3,000 years.
It was celebrated in the 9th month (Uinal) of the Mesoamerican solar calendar that is made up of eighteen 20-day months + 5 days of transition (also called 5 dead days). The Mesoamerican solar calendar expressed not only a scientific method of time-keeping but also was developed as part of a belief system of the civilization.
Mesoamerica, like all civilizations, was built around the concept of opposites. Therefore, 180 days into a 360-day year also called for the appearance of the dark underworld to take its turn as the opposite of light.
The representative of the World called “Mictlán”, where people also resided after death, was the domain of Mictecacihuatl the Lady of the Dead. She appears as the skull and bones of a skeleton called “La Calavera Catrina” depicted in popular Halloween and Día de los Muertos costumes.
In Mexico and other Latin American countries, October 31st is used to prepare offerings of food, drink and toys for the dead. November the 1st, called “Día de los Inocentes”, is set aside to honor and celebrate with deceased children of the families that include visitations to their graves and toy offerings.
November the 2nd, the All Souls Day in Christian tradition is known as “Día de los Muertos”, the source for the name of the holiday that features food and drink brought to the cemeteries to share with those buried there. The magical 3-day event where time stops as the dead come alive to share a sacred moment with loved ones on earth.
In simpler times of old, the dead were part of everyday life and believers were always in the company of those that died but never really departed. It is said that part of the magic of life was defined by the ability to see death over your left shoulder in key moments of timeless space.
Original Día de los Muertos can take one back to a time when the artificial barriers between the living and the dead were erased and the two branches of the families lived as one. The ritual of visiting the dead also included jokes and banter and even making fun of some of the idiosyncrasies of the departed.
After the visit to cemeteries, the families would go home and put out food and drink knowing that there would be a return visit from those in the other world. The dead relatives would arrive in the middle of the night, eat, drink and party in the darkness.
What is fascinating is that they would also tell stories, jokes, embarrassing gossip and make fun of the living that were supposedly asleep. It is clear that with all of the noise, no one got any sleep.
This year, make sure to buy candy that you like because it is becoming more and more apparent that the Trick or Treats ritual and the kids that come to the door are less and less. But it is still fun.