Celebrating October 31st – Day of the Dead

One day every year, children all over the United states people go to random strangers houses and knock on their doors and ask for candy by saying: “Trick or Treat”! We call this Halloween. Have you ever wondered how other cultures celebrate this holiday? In Mexico they have what is known as Dia De Muertos (Day of the Dead). On this day people all over the Republic take time to honor their dead loved ones by making offerings also known as ofrendas.

So what exactly is an ofrenda? The word is a religious term that refers to a gift you would leave at an altar to honor the life of a friend or family member who passed away. This is where it gets interesting because just like when you give someone a gift who is alive you buy or make them a gift of something that they would like to have. Something they enjoy. For an ofrenda you would give something that they loved in their passed life. I have heard of people leaving Papaya cake, Mickey mouse stuffed animal, Maracuya drink, or a Gucci bombers jacket.

Halloween in the United States is celebrated on the last day of October. It usually starts at sunset and is over by 9 pm. From what I have seen when the sun starts to lower the slightest bit the littler kids go out to go trick or treating with their plastic pumpkin candy buckets. As it gets later in the evening then the older kids come out. The littler kids back to their houses by 8 pm while the older kids go to their houses by 10-12 pm.

In contrast Dia De Muertos (Day Of The Dead) is more than a 1 day celebration. Mexicans honor their dead over a 3 day period (from October 31st to November 2nd) but they start preparing for it mid-October. On October 31st families go to the graves of their deceased family or friends to clean and decorate the tomb. November 1st is for honoring children who have passed also called los angelitos. November 2nd is designated to honor all the adults.

During day of the dead there are a variety interesting items that are commonly used. Many people use Calaveras or sugar skulls which can be used as a fun little treat or used as decoration with their name across the forehead of the skulls. I mentioned this first because the skull is the main symbol that represents Dia De Los Muertos. Another item that is frequently used for this celebration are candles. Candles are used to guide the dead back to earth and their ofrenda, they also represent forgotten souls or the soul of the family member that has passed. An interesting side note is that the candles don’t have to be a certain size or color. As long as they can be lit, that will work. A third item that can be used for this day is copal incense. Do you even know what copal incense is? Well I didn’t because its not very common to many Americans, so I looked it up on the internet. This odd incense looks like little rocks and gravel but it’s actually dried tree bark that feels gritty like sand and it smells like a burning perfume. This incense when lit creates a lot of smoke. Copal incense is used to guide the dead using the smoke. The last item is a special pastry that is called Day of the Dead bread (Pan De Los Muertos). This bread is a sweet dessert bread that is sometimes decorated with bone shapes across the top and a tear drop or a skull to represent the sorrow of family members passing’s.

Something I found interesting as I was doing research on the holiday is how the people incorporate the four main elements of nature at the altar where they put their ofrendas. The first is water. It is thought that during the dead’s long journey back to their loved ones on earth they will be thirsty, so a bottle of water would be placed for them to drink. The next element is wind. The people decorate with this special paper called Papel Picado (Punched Paper). When their loved ones arrive, it will blow in the wind thus letting people know that they are there. This Papel Picado is a light weight type of tissue paper and can be many different colors with different images on each one. The third element is earth. They represent earth as food because on their journey it is believed they would be hungry, so they put their favorite foods out. Now this might seem strange, but the dead don’t eat the actual item only the nutrients out of it. The last element is fire. The people put out candles to light up their altars, so it will be easier to find for the dead. Each candle represents a forgotten soul or a departed one.

In conclusion the United States and Mexico both have an interesting way of celebrating October 31st. In the United states kids go around dressed up in costumes knocking on other peoples homes asking for candy and this is called Halloween. In Mexico however, Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) is the Mexicans way of celebrating their deceased family members by making altars at their tomb called ofrendas or offerings in a way that no other culture does. This holiday was traditionally made from the Aztecs honoring the dead but then the Europeans combined their culture into this making it what is known today as Dia De Los Muertos. How does your culture celebrate these few days? Do you go trick or treating with a costume and a plastic bucket stacking up candy or do you take these couple of days to honor your deceased family members or friends or do you celebrate it a whole different way. If so write about it and share with others.

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