What Is Day of the Dead? This Mexican Holiday Grows in Popularity in the US

Filed in American Culture by on October 30, 2019 0 Comments

American culture is increasingly a blend of traditions, holidays, and customs adapted from around the world. This is the case with the rise in popularity of the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in the United States.

As the Latin American population has grown in the United States, so too has the culture. Now, you can see Day of the Dead symbols—sugar skulls, homemade altars, and decorated skeletons—far beyond our border with Mexico.

But what is Day of the Dead? If you’re visiting the United States for the first time on your exchange program, there’s a chance you haven’t been exposed to this holiday before.

History of Day of the Dead

This traditional Mexican holiday brings people together from October 31 to November 2 to celebrate and honor those in their family who have died.

The tradition of honoring one’s ancestors has roots in indigenous Aztec rituals that date back as much as 3,000 years. The festival that developed into Day of the Dead was influenced by these rituals.

The holiday also has elements of Catholicism, incorporated by the Spanish as they arrived on Mexican soil during the 16th century.

Honoring Loved Ones

In certain parts of Latin America (and increasingly in the United States), people throw parties, host picnics near loved ones’ graves, and hold all-night vigils.

These festivals are meant to be lively and fun, as they’re seen as a reunion between the living and those who have passed on before them.
One of the most popular symbols of Day of the Dead is the altar, or “ofrenda,” in the home. These colorful altars showcase important mementos to the deceased family members. The altars display their photos, as well as the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased.

Is Day of the Dead Similar to Halloween?

In the United States, the Day of the Dead was sometimes confused with Halloween. It wasn’t until the last couple of decades that Americans with Mexican heritage began celebrating the holiday again.

The first night of the celebration in the United States—October 31—also falls on Halloween. Some of the imagery is similar too. But the similarities essentially stop there.

The biggest distinction is the intention behind both holidays—Halloween is meant to scare, while the Day of the Dead is friendly with the deceased.

Are you going to any Day of the Dead celebrations? Tell us in the comments below!