Why the Day of the Dead is not Halloween (PHOTOS)

Why the Day of the Dead is not Halloween (PHOTOS)
Skulls set on shrines, candles flickering in the dark while skeletons converge on the streets...Halloween? No. The biggest fright night of the year gives way to the Mexican tradition of celebrating the dead.

The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is annually celebrated for three days – October 31 to November 2 – primarily in Mexico, its country of origin.

A boy with his face painted as a skull poses for a photo during the start of the "Las Catrinas" festival, ahead of the Day of the Dead in Cupula on the outskirts of Morelia, Mexico (Reuters / Alan Ortega)

Families gather on this day to joyously commemorate the dead by participating in a celebration that was born in the pre-Columbian times with pagan Aztec roots that date back to nearly 3000 years.

“Our cult of death is also a cult of life,” wrote Mexican Nobel Literature Prize winner Octavio Paz.

Sex workers wear skeleton masks, a traditional Mexican symbol representing the Day of the Dead, as they make an offering during a procession to remember their deceased colleagues, especially those who were violently murdered, in Mexico City (Reuters / Edgard Garrido)

This celebration of life was adapted through the centuries, mixing with Roman Catholic traditions. Both Halloween and the Day of the Dead have the similar Roman Catholic roots; All Saints' Day celebrated on November 1, while All Souls' Day is celebrated on November 2.

Women with faces painted to look like the popular Mexican figure called "Catrina" are seen in Zapopan (Reuters / Alejandro Acosta)

In Mexico, November 1 is called the Day of the Innocents, when relatives honor children and infants. Deceased adults are honored on November 2 during the Day of the Dead.

Women with faces painted to look like the popular Mexican figure called "Catrina" walk down a staircase in Zapopan (Reuters / Alejandro Acosta)

Skeletons and skulls are 'brought out of the coffins' during the holiday. An image of a costumed female skeleton, called La Calavera Catarina and created by a Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada at the beginning of the 20th century, has become the symbol of the holiday.

Image from wikipedia.org

The image of the skull, or calavera, is also an integral part of the holiday. People intricately paint their faces, mimicking the skulls linked with the festival. In addition, skulls made from clay and sugar are used as decorations.

People, with their faces painted as skulls, pose for a photo during the start of the "Las Catrinas" festival, ahead of the Day of the Dead in Cupula on the outskirts of Morelia, Mexico (Reuters / Alan Ortega)

It is believed that during the celebrations, the souls of the dead can visit the living. Families adorn their homes with private altars called ofrendas, where they put sugar skulls and marigolds, along with the favorite food, drinks, and possessions of the departed.

A picture of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez is seen in the Day of the Dead decorations presented by the Embassy of Mexico in Bolivia at the Tambo Quirquincha in La Paz (Reuters / David Mercado)

Marigolds are sometimes called “flowers of the dead” in Mexico, as they are believed to attract souls to the ofrendas.

Women sit next to the graves of their relatives on the Day of the Dead, at a cemetery in Santa Maria Atzompa, on the outskirts of Oaxaca (Reuters / Jorge Luis Plata)

People also gather at cemeteries to bring food and drinks to the deceased, and to leave pillows and blankets for the souls to rest.

Women pray at the grave of a relative at the municipal cemetery during the Day of the Dead, in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero (Reuters / Henry Romero)

Celebrations may take a humorous tone, with poems and anecdotes composed in memory of the departed.

People look at an installation of a skeleton, skulls and Cempasuchil marigold petals, part of an altar assembled by residents to celebrate the Day of the Dead, outside the Municipal Palace in Iguala, in the southwestern state of Guerrero (Reuters / Henry Romero)

In some places, such as Pomuch, the indigenous Maya population still follows the ancient tradition of cleaning the bones of the deceased three years after their death. The ritual – during which every bone is cleaned separately, wrapped in clothes the departed wore during life, and put in an open box on its niche in the cemetery – takes place several days before the Day of the Dead.

A child reacts while touching a skeleton model, which is part of an art installation to celebrate the Day of the Dead, in Zocalo Square, Mexico (Reuters / Tomas Bravo)

Similar celebrations are observed in Peru, Guatemala, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, and El Salvador. Brazil also celebrates the Day of the Dead on November 2, when relatives visit the deceased at cemeteries. In Europe, particularly in Portugal and Spain, ofrendas are also made on these days to honor the deceased.