Today is Halloween in El Norte, the northern part of North America aka USA. In southern North America aka Mexico, the celebration is very different. And, the border is more permeable so iconic images of carved pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, and the call of trick or treat are becoming part of the Mexican holiday landscape.
Catholic Halloween (imported to Latin America from Spain) has three components:
It is likely the Spanish moved indigenous ancestor worship celebration and traditions to these dates to coincide with teaching the new religion. In many Oaxaca villages, the celebrations occur on one of these three days. You need to know where and when.
Here in Durham, North Carolina, Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos, takes on the flavor of Mexico and is celebrated beyond the barrio. I suspect that many cities and towns with Mexican and Central American immigrants have incorporated the images, if not the practices, of Muertos into Halloween.
My annual celebration is on November 2, All Soul’s Day, which is when Muertos is observed in my Oaxaca home village of Teotitlan del Valle.
I build an altar. Decorate it with cempasuchitl (aromatic marigolds), offerings of food and beverages that my parents loved. My dad gets a beer. My mom gets green tea. There is bread and chocolate — a requirement. No bagels and lox in Durham, so I make do with something else. I light candles. Arrange the sugar skulls. Put their photos on the table. Sit and remember. This is ecumenical.
Death in the Mexican culture is synonymous with life. It is a time to celebrate life in all its forms and think about the continuity. Muertos is when the loved ones return to visit. It is a chance to talk to them, to thank them, to honor them and to consider how they gave us life. If we had unresolved issues, we can discuss those with them, too. It is very healthy and healing, like a prayer.
Here are some links of past blog posts I have written over the years that explain Day of the Dead. Please feel free to read and pass along. Lots of photos in these links, too!
- Explaining Day of the Dead to Friends
- Getting Ready for Day of the Dead in Durham, NC
- Preparing for Day of the Dead
- Day of the Dead in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan
- Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle: Guiding the Difuntos Home
- Day of the Dead: Gate to Heaven Closed on Sunday
- Travelers Guide to Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
- Day of the Dead Night in Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca
- Making a Day of the Dead Altar: What you need
Let us know how you will celebrate and remember.