Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

Jaqueline Morales

On October 29th West High students had the chance to show off their costumes on West’s Halloween catwalk. People dressed up as witches, angels, nurses, and maids, as well as various characters from TV shows and movies.

November 2nd was Día de los Muertos. Students from Latinos in Action prepared an event during first and second lunch where they served pan de muertos and agua de horchata. The area was nicely decorated, with an arch made of flowers and tissue paper banners. There were altars on both sides of the arch decorated with orange flowers, sugar skulls, and candles.

Where do these holidays come from?

Where does Halloween originate? Halloween was originally an ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain. Samhain occured on October 31st, the day when people believed the veil between the human and spirit world was the thinnest and ghosts would return to Earth. It was also a time associated with death and the beginning of the harvest. People would light large bonfires, burn crops, sacrifice animals to Celtic deities, and wear costumes made from animal heads to ward off ghosts. Celtic priests, called druids, would also make predictions about the future.

In 1000 A.D., the Christian church made Nov. 2nd All Souls Day. All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead, was celebrated similarly to Samhain. The celebration on All Souls Day was called All Hallows, and the night before was called All Hallows Eve—eventually becoming Halloween.

In the 19th century, Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine brought their Halloween celebrations to the United States. By the end of the century, Halloween was a more community-oriented holiday. Both children and adults threw parties to celebrate. People played pranks on one another, like tipping over outhouses or leaving fence gates open. However, these pranks became a problem around the early 20th century, so people began to offer candy as a way to stop tricksters. By the 1950’s, Halloween had become a holiday mostly for children.

Dia de los Muertos is a two-day festival from November 1-2. It originated in Mexico but is now celebrated in other parts of Latin America. Dia de los Muertos was originally celebrated by the indigenous Aztec and Nahua people during the month of August. It was believed that in the afterlife, people’s spirits would go through a journey to reach their final resting place, called Mictlan. To help their loved ones on their journey, families set out food, drinks, and other offerings for them.

With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors came the tradition of All Souls Day. All Souls Day is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November and, when the Spanish conquered Mexico, Dia de los Muertos was moved to those dates as well. The Spanish would decorate their loved ones’ graves with flowers and candles, take wine and soul bread with them to the cemetery, and light oil lamps to help guide the spirits on their journey from the afterlife to the living world. These traditions blended together with those of Mexico’s indigenous people, evolving into what we now know as Dia de los Muertos.

Today, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated by putting up ofrendas, or altars, with photos of deceased loved ones. It is believed that during this time, spirits can cross over to the living world to be with their families. Ofrendas have the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased, as well as candles, orange marigolds, and sugar skulls. In the living world, people make a path from the cemetery to their houses with marigolds to help guide the spirits home. Dia de los Muertos is a way to shed a positive light on death and celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. Parades, parties, and lively music are all part of the holiday celebrations. People paint their faces to look like skeletons and wear hats or headbands decorated with large flowers. During this celebration, the spirits of those who have passed away and their living loved ones are reunited to engage in festivities.

Both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos have evolved over hundreds of years, changing into the holidays that we know and enjoy today.