Happy Halloween! Today also kicks off the celebration of Día de los Muertos (DEE ah deh lohs MWEHR tohs), a Mexican holiday that honors the dead. Día de los Muertos is Spanish for Day of the Dead. The holiday is also celebrated in many Mexican American communities. But Día de los Muertos is celebrated much differently than Halloween. While the two are related, Día de los Muertos is a much more colorful, lively, and happy celebration. Halloween is often about spooky and scary things; Día de los Muertos is about showing love for family members that have passed away.
During this celebration, families gather in churches, at cemeteries, and in homes. They pray for and remember their deceased loved ones. Día de los muertos is usually celebrated on November 2. That day is the Roman Catholic feast of All Souls' Day. In some communities, the dead are remembered over several days, including November 1, All Saints' Day, and its eve, October 31. The celebration combines ancient native beliefs and Catholic traditions.
Many families prepare an elaborate altar, known as an ofrenda (offering), for the holiday. They set up the ofrendas in their homes and in cemeteries. The ofrendas are decorated with flowers, fruits, popular foods, sweets, and drinks. They are created to welcome back for a day the souls of departed family members and friends. Special candies and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a sweet bread, are popular treats. They are served in the shape of skulls, skeletons, and other symbols of death.
The day of the dead reinforces the ancient belief that death is a part of life. It is an important tradition through which families pass on their oral histories. Recalling stories of past family members helps keep these ancestors alive for future generations.