The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) takes place every year on November 1 and 2 (which are the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day) in Mexico and places in the U.S. where many Mexican immigrants and their descendants live (such as the Dallas region).
While somewhat similar to Halloween (in that both holidays occur very close to each other and both deal with the dead in some aspect), the Day of the Dead is different in many ways.
The holiday originated in Mexico hundreds of years ago and is a mix of Spanish Catholic and pre-Hispanic indigenous beliefs. Its main premise is the celebration of the cycle of life, with death being just another part of the continuance of life (on another plane). It is, in other words, a celebration of the afterlife.
Dia de los Muertos is a day to celebrate and honor loved ones who have died. It’s a happy time and is Mexico’s most important holiday.
Many family members erect small altars filled with favorite foods, mementos and photos for deceased loved ones.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated with the favorite foods (and lots of them) of those who have died, music and keepsakes saved by living family members. Small altars are erected in homes, which are decorated with pictures and other mementoes of the deceased loved ones. Some families picnic and feast by the deceased persons’ graves (if possible). Living family members tell funny and/or heartwarming stories about their dead loved ones. Celebrants may paint their faces as smiling skeletons (the holiday’s symbol). As mentioned above, the Day of the Dead is a day of joy and celebration.
It’s believed that those who have died return for the day, to celebrate their lives with their loved ones. The holiday serves as a way to stay connected with the afterlife, a realm to which everyone someday will travel.