Before you paint that colorful skull on your face and don a flower crown, learn a little more about the culture you’re borrowing from.
Dia De Los Muertos — also known as Dia de Muertos in the English back-translated version — began in Mexico. It’s now celebrated across Latin America and among communities that share this heritage and tradition, according to National Geographic.
Before Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the holiday was celebrated in early summer. Now, it’s observed from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, coinciding with the Western Christian All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Its name isn’t for nothing. The day really is meant for the dead, in celebrating those that have passed with private altars, or ofrendas. These include favorite food and drink of the deceased, photos, memorabilia and flowers. Toys are left for children, and booze for adults. Families gather around the altars to pray or reminisce about the lives of their loved ones. It’s meant to be a celebration, not a mourning, under the belief that the dead would be bummed out by a lot of sulking and crying. Why not put on your dancing shoes and feel alive? The calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls) are almost always seen as rejoicing, vivid characters, not the shadowy, melodramatic ghosts and ghouls seen in Western Halloween tradition.
Here’s where things get a little spooky: Some versions of the tradition hold that spirits of dead children reunite with their families at midnight on Oct. 31, with adults following them from the gates of heaven on Nov. 2. Every community celebrates differently, however, with their own traditions and celebrations.
If this is the first you’ve heard of this holiday’s complex and rich history, and you’re planning to wear a sugar skull for Halloween, be ready to defend your choice to appropriate a deeply personal and religious holiday. Or wear pretty much anything else from your own culture.
The most essential daily news, entertainment, pop culture, and culture coverage. Want more? “5 Scary Things To Make With Leftover Halloween Candy,” “6 Pop Culture Food Costumes For Halloween,” “Liquid Kitchen Presents: The Green Ghoul“