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Dia de Los Muertos vs. Halloween

Dia de Los Muertos is a Mexican Holiday dedicated to remembering the dead and all of our passed on loved ones. Although this holiday is often combined with Halloween the two holidays are quite different.  Some scholars have traced the origins of Dia de Los Muertos to indigenous observances dating back to an Aztec festival devoted to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. In Aztec myths, Mictecacihuatl is Queen of Mictlan (the underworld), ruling over the afterlife with Mictlantecuhtli, another deity who is designated as her husband. Her role is to keep watch over the bones of the dead while Mictlantecuhtli’s role was to distinguish between the three types of souls which were distinguished by their type of death: normal, heroic, for instance in battle, as a sacrifice or during childbirth, and non-heroic.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Every year Aztecs held a festival remembering the death of their ancestors, while honoring the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Underworld. The festival lasted for an entire month, from the end of July to mid-August, and was during the time of the corn harvests. This reflected how the festival was a celebration of the deceased who the Aztecs believed did not wish to be mourned; first they honoured lost angelitos, the deceased children, then those who passed away as adults.

Image courtesy of Loren Javier

After the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs in 1521, they tried to make the Aztecs adopt their Catholic dogmata. As Catholics, they thought that the Aztecs were pagan savages and tried their best to expunge the old Aztec rituals and fully convert the indigenous people over to their Catholic beliefs but they failed. What they accomplished was more like a compromise; a blend of beliefs. The Spanish conquerors succeeding in shortening the length of the Mictecacihuatl festival to two days that conveniently corresponded with two of their own Catholic holidays: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, which take place on November 1 and 2 of each year.

Image courtesy of Dana Robinson

With the combined similarities the combination of Aztec Mictlantecuhtli festival beliefs and the Saint’s day similarities of honoring the dead it became Dia de los Muertos where people could celebrate the lives of their passed on loved ones. The evolution of honoring Mictlantecuhtli has turned into honoring La Catrina, which translated into English means the teaser.

Halloween is a yearly celebration on October 31st that celebrates the eve of All Hallows (or All Saints Day). It is the day prior to the day you commemorate the dead. Halloween is commonly connected to the Celtic Festival Samhain which celebrates the end of the summer. Samhain marks the end of the harvest period and the beginning of the winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. Samhain was a time when spirits and fairies could more easily visit our world. During this time there were feasts where the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend. However, spirits and fairies could also cause harm in which case they needed to be warded off. This is thought to have influenced today’s bonfire, because of their cleansing properties, customs and guising or tick-or-treating.

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