About Day of the Dead, Halloween in Mexico

Celebrating Halloween in Mexico doesn’t include things such as witches and goblins, nor does it include trick-or-treating. Halloween in Mexico is a time to celebrate the dead, where as in the rest of North America, it is a night for kids to dress in costumes and get free candy. The meaning of the actual day is, well, it’s lost on them.

If you were to ask a kid in Canada or the US what Halloween was about, most would say exactly as I just have…costumes and candy. In Mexico however, families pass along age-old traditions of flowers, candles and celebrations of life to honor the day with the passage of souls.

As a matter of fact, Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead as it’s called here, is not a scary one-night event. It’s a time that is celebreated over the course of a few days to honor loved one who have died.

Day of the Dead is celebrated November 1 and 2  all around the country. All Saints’ Day, which is November 1 and All Souls’ Day, is celebrated November 2. In Mexico November 1 is usually reserved for honoring the memories of children who died (angelitos), while November 2 is for remembering those who were adults at death.

Family members visit graves bringing with them candles, photos, favorite toys of children, marigold flowers and anything else they feel will help comfort those who have died.

During the month of October you will notice shopping stores carrying special breads, ornaments and sugar skulls that are also symbolic of Day of the Dead. One of the ornaments you will often see is La Catrina, an elaborately dressed female skeleton.

Legend has it that Catrina was once a real person who was known for her selfishness. In life, she was a greedy rich woman who did nothing to help the poor. Catrina was often seen dressed in ornate European styles, imitating the French by wearing a lot of makeup to make her skin appear whiter.

The Catrina Skull translates into Dapper Skeleton or Elegant Skull and is actually an illustration by the famous Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada.

In his original 1910 etching of La Catrina, Posada describes a person who was ashamed of their origin and dressed imitating the French style while wearing a lot of makeup to make their skin look whiter. Garbancera became a nickname given to people of indigenous ancestry who imitated European style and denied their own cultural heritage.

Day of the Dead is about the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, referring to the wealthy that, “Death brings this neutralizing force; everyone is equal in the end. Sometimes people have to be reminded of that. “