Halloween, Dia de los Muertos and All Saint’s Day

Halloween, part of a religious celebration, not only becomes more popular every year, but also more commercial.  It even spreads out to Latin American countries which in tradition and culture are closer to Mexico where Día de los Muertos is celebrated. Halloween and Día de los Muertos both take place from the 31st of October till the 2d of November and there is quite a logical explanation why these date ranges overlap.

Aztec’s Día de los Muertos

In ancient times the indigenous people of South America had their own beliefs and costumes. They believed in afterlife, their loved ones didn’t die, but moved to a different world; the afterworld. In a festival which was celebrated at the end of July, the end of corn harvest, they didn’t mourn their dead or ‘muertitas’ and ‘muertitos’, but celebrated them. In their belief the dead were still part of the family and would always be. Atahualpa Yupanqui, an Argentinian singer with indigenous blood gives best expression to this thought in his song Los hermanos:

Y en nosotros nuestros muertos    And inside us, we carry our dead
pa que nadie quede atrás.              So that no one is left behind

Yo tengo tantos hermanos              I have so many brothers and sisters
que no los puedo contar . . .            that I cannot count them all . . .
Copyright:Memorias de la Tierra/ Youtube

Catholic holiday and pagan rituals

Mid- 16th century the Spanish conquered the Latin American countries. Catholic missionaries travelled the content in an attempt to convert the indigenous people, but weren’t very successful. The missionaries did succeed in convincing the indigenous people to shorten and move their festival to the 1st and 2nd of November, which conveniently also were two Catholic holidays: All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. The present Día de los Muertos is a mix between the Catholic holidays and the ancient South American beliefs.

San La Muerte

Nevertheless, the Guaraní Indians in Northern Argentina, parts of Paraguay and Southern Brasil celebrate a festival on the 15th of August which is called San La Muerte or San Esqueleto. They honour their saint and offer him food, but only if he’s willing to grant a favour. Sometimes the saint has to be threatened with hunger or banishment to uninhabited places for him to grant the favour.

Hallow Eve

All Hallows actually is the old English name for All Saint’s Day. The night before All Saint’s Day is also called Hallow Eve and this is where the word Hallowe’en comes from. The idea to scare the dead comes from an old Celtic belief. In the Celtic calendar the 31st of October was the last day of the year and the end of the harvest season. In honour of the deceased the Celts would put food for the ghosts in front of their door. To keep the bad spirits away they would wear masks. Furthermore, they believed the ones deceased in the last year would return to take control of the body of a living human being.

Three day celebration Día de los Muertos

On the 31st of October, the first day of Día de los Muertos the children make an altar for the angelitos (the spirits of deceased children), the 1st of November adult spirits are invited to visit their families and the 2nd of November, same as in the Catholic holiday, the families go to the cemetery to pay respect at the grave of their loved ones.

Copyright: Taringa

Copyright: Taringa

Halloween vs Día de los Muertos

Last Sunday the Dutch Foundation Colores de Mexico posted on their Facebookpage:

El Halloween es para espantar y nuestra festividad es para celebrar a los que fueron sin ningun objetivo de espantar a nadie

(Halloween is to scare people and our festivity is to celebrate those who left us without wanting to scare anyone.)