El Día de los Muertos -known in English as the Day of the Dead- is a two-day celebration that begins the day after Halloween. Even though Halloween and el Día de los Muertos almost coincide in our current calendars, there are marked differences in their cultural roots and significance. Halloween gained its origin during the Celtic festival of Samhain. Individuals partaking in this pagan-religious festival wore costumes and gathered around bonfires to welcome the harvest and ward off ghosts. Conversely, el Día de los Muertos evolved from Aztec tradition within the region of central Mexico. This festivity, which is now part of Mexico’s national identity, is a celebration of life. It is also a time to appreciate, reflect, and honour the memory of loved ones who have passed.
El Día de los Muertos, which in the past lasted a month, does not mark days of mourning. Instead, November 1st and 2nd are joyous days observed across Mexico. These are days of street parades and people gathering to remember those who have departed. Equally important, this celebration is a time during which friends and family share sweet pan de muerto, and give each other sugar or chocolate skulls. They also write death-related poems to each other, known as calaveras literarias. These poemsuse humour to sometimes express the importance recipients have in people’s lives.
Across Mexico, individuals gather at cemeteries and/or designate areas within their homes to create altars commemorating the dead. Tombstones and rooms with make-shift altars become decorated. Food favored by those who have passed are prepared and enjoyed. Incense is burned, and music, also enjoyed by those who passed, is played. While family and friends gather to share this joyous occasion, people celebrate on the streets with marigolds, painted faces, and/or Catrina masks.
Unlike Halloween, el Día de los Muertos is not historically grounded on a harvest, or on a practice meant to ward off evil spirits. Instead, it has always been a wonderful celebration that draws attention to loved ones and friendships. It is centered on the importance of appreciating those who surround us, while also honouring the people whose memory remain central in our lives.
To honour its beauty and significance, our Spanish Program at York University is showcasing this festivity with an altar on Wednesday, November 1st and Thursday, November 2nd. Please join us on the 5th floor of the South Ross building, as we celebrate life, love, and the importance of cherishing the memory of those who carved a special place in our hearts.
¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!
from our Spanish Program at the DLLL