When my sisters and I were little we loved to watch Lizzie McGuire on Disney Channel. Disney never failed to have great Halloween specials, and one of our favorites was the Dias de Los Muertos episode of Lizzie McGuire. The episode was centered around the Latina Character Miranda and her family’s tradition of celebrating Dias de Los Muertos. During this episode, Lizzie and Miranda somehow bring the calacas and calaveras to life, so they could teach their middle school bully a lesson. We loved the spookiness of the episode and enjoyed that our Latin heritage was included. But, the episode may have confused viewers as to what the true meaning and tradition of Dias de los Muertos is. So, before you put on that “Day of the Dead” costume and paint your face like a sugar skull, maybe take a moment to find out what you are dressing up as first.
Just like many other holiday traditions around the world, Dias Los Muertos is the result of a collision of cultures. As Latin America was colonized by Catholic Spaniards, All Saints Day became widely celebrated with Family and Friends. They would come together, share delicious foods, and enjoy other festivities, like storytelling. The Spanish would retain some of the Aztec traditions that were similar to All Saints Day, however the Aztec rituals were more festive and would bring Dias De Los Muertos to life.
November 1st marks the first day of Dias Muertos. Family and friends join at the cemetery to clean up the gravestones and decorate them with festive colors, flowers, and the trademark calaveras. In addition to the traditional alters, families will honor their deceased loved ones by bringing them food. As it would be disrespectful to mourn the deceased by crying and being sorrowful, there is an elaborate parade with music, dancing, and precessions of partiers, often with sugar skull painted faces and dressed in traditional Mexican attire. All Souls Day on November 2nd brings the Dias Muertos celebrations to an end.
Now, my family did not celebrate Dias de Los Muertos, however, like many Mexican American families, the outlook on the death of a loved is similar. Rather than a somber gathering when loved ones pass away, there is delicious food, family, music and the celebration of life.
In the United States, “Day of the Dead” is also celebrated alongside Halloween. The celebrations aren’t as focused on the religious and traditional aspect, however, the original Halloween traditions from the Celtic era seem to be quite similar to the All Saints Day (Dias Muertos) Celebrations in Latin America.