Halloween will be over tonight, but the celebrations are just starting for Día de Muertos.
While the former is a night of fun, in which many dress up and trick-or-treat, Día de Muertos is meant to honor, remember and mourn loved ones who have passed away.
Here are five things you should know about the holiday:
1. The tradition dates back to before Spanish colonization
Día de Muertos, which translates to Day of the Dead and is also known as Día de los Muertos, as we know it today is a “blending of European traditions brought by the invading Spanish conquistadores and the indigenous traditions of the peoples of Mesoamerica,” according to the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Día de Muertos, which has an element of joy, is observed on the two days after Halloween. Because of that, it’s not uncommon to find calaveras (skulls) or other Día de Muertos items near the Halloween section at stores. However, the ancient tradition, which originated in Mexico and is celebrated throughout some of Latin America, is not to be confused with Halloween.
Día de Muertos is a “celebration where art, the mythical and everything is combined into a celebration,” said Edgardo García, 48, chair of the Día de Muerte en Seattle committee, which hosted weekend festivities at Seattle Center.
Celebrations such as this help bridge the distance between families.
“It is the way that we find closeness with family that is far from us — the ones we can’t see for reasons like our migrant status or because it’s not accessible to make a big family trip each year,” said García.
2. The dead are welcomed back with ofrendas, or offerings
People celebrating the holiday begin setting up altars on Oct. 31, whether it is at the cemetery or at home.
The altars are decorated with cempasúchil flowers (marigolds), photographs of loved ones, candles, drinks and food. The light from candles is meant to help guide the souls back home where they can enjoy their favorite food or drinks once they arrive. Other items that make their way onto the altar are ornate sugar skulls, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and decorative tissue paper.
Check out this video, which has been making the rounds online for capturing the essence of the holiday.
3. The holiday spans two days
The Día de Muertos celebrations fall on the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2).
The first day is reserved for honoring and celebrating the life of children. Adults are remembered the following day.
“In Mexico, it is custom to make altars to wait for the spirits, because Mexico believes that on the night of Nov. 1, the spirit returns home,” said Garcia.
4. The catrina is an iconic image of the holiday
The image of the catrina, an elegantly dressed female skeleton, was created by the famous Mexican etcher José Guadalupe Posada in the early 1910s. One of the concepts of the catrina is that “death does not know, nor care, about social class, color or race,” García said.
Fun fact: The people of Zapotlanejo, Jalisco, Mexico, set a Guinness World Record in 2015 for the tallest catrina built. It was 61 feet 7.17 inches tall. And this year, they sought to set a new record on Saturday.
5. Face painting is meant to embrace the holiday
Día de Muertos, as mentioned before, is a celebration of life and death. Face painting has become a more modern holiday practice.
Painting only half of one’s face, as seen below, is a way to portray life and death, while others may opt for full-face makeup.
The makeup incorporates bold, vibrant colors and often resembles the image of the catrina. It is not a costume, but a way to embrace the holiday in which loved ones are celebrated with joyous festivities.
There’s more and more decor from Día de Muertos at your local drugstore and supermarket next to the Halloween-themed items, but they are not variations of the same holiday. If you intend to celebrate both, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts, and where you can celebrate in Seattle.
Want to learn more? The Día de Muertos festival committee in Seattle puts on an annual celebration. Their site offers more information on the tradition.