The Significance of the Day of the Dead

BY IMAN UMAIR-QAISER

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Halloween. Many of us have lived our childhoods anticipating for the end of October to dress up as our favourite superheroes, monsters, or characters and raid the unfortunate homes in our neighbourhoods for free candy. Few of us understand the roots of Halloween, and even less know of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday celebrated alongside Halloween.

The practice dates back centuries; in Aztec civilizations, the native cultures would hold feasts in honour of Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of the underworld. As time went by, conquistadors and settlers brought Christian and Catholic cultures with them, and began spreading their religion across Central America. Christianity and Catholicism celebrated All Hallows Eve, – more commonly known as Halloween– All Saints Day, and All Souls Day around the same time as the feasts, so the two celebrations eventually merged together to form the modern Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead is in some ways similar to Halloween: participants dress up in skull masks and adorn themselves with flowers, especially marigolds; and spend the night celebrating. However, the main purpose of the Day of the Dead is to celebrate and remember deceased family and friends, with parades and fiestas thrown in their honour and memory.

There are many symbols associated with the Day of the Dead as well. Altars for the deceased, called ofrendas, are a principal part of the holiday. Flowers can be found at every corner in a neighbourhood that celebrates the holiday, such as marigolds, the most common and popular flower to be seen during the festival. These flowers are nicknamed ‘the flower of the dead’, as it is believed that their scent and colour can help lead dead spirits home to their families. White chrysanthemums and gladioluses are also used in celebration. One of the most recognizable symbols of the Day is la Calavera Catrina, literally the Dapper Skeleton. This symbols is a female skeleton adorned with bright colours and flowers, and is said to have replaced the tradition of the goddess Mictecacihuatl. People often dress up as skulls and skeletons so that the visiting spirits of their relatives wouldn’t feel out of place in the human world.

Día de los Muertos. Although many people often wrongfully mistake it as a ‘Mexican Halloween’, that could not be further from the truth. In the three days it takes place (October 31st to November 2nd) take some time to appreciate a beautiful and unique tradition of a wonderful culture. Olé!

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