Día de los Muertos and Halloween might seem like two sides of the same coin, but after research and reflection, these holidays have considerable differences.
As I wrote in the first series post, Día de los Muertos: 7 Things to Know, “I’m Latino. I’m Mexican. In fact, I’m a descendent of the indigenous people of Michoacán. But I didn’t know anything about Día de los Muertos.” My ignorance didn’t stop there. Until recently I never considered if Christians should even participate in the festivities. In the second post, Should Christians Celebrate Día de los Muertos?, my conclusion was to not to celebrate Día de los Muertos. (For more information, click on the link to the second post)
I took my daughter trick-or-treating so you might be wondering this obvious questions: What’s the difference between Día de los Muertos and Halloween? Why did I conclude that my family will participate in Halloween but not Día de los Muertos?
Día de los Muertos
The roots of Día de los Muertos originate in the indigenous religion of the Aztec population throughout Central and Southern Mexico. Following Spanish colonization in Mexico (1500’s) and the Mexican-American War in the United States (1846-1848), a large majority of indigenous Mexicans clung to traditions and practices of their ancestors, including Día de los Muertos.
A significant part of Día de los Muertos is its roots in polytheistic religion. The holiday was dedicated to Mictēcacihuātl (“Lady of the Dead”), the goddess and Queen of Mictlan (the afterlife). Mictēcacihuātl is one of many gods in the indigenous religion, but Día de los Muertos was dedicated to worshipping and praying to her on behalf of their deceased family members.
The roots of Halloween, however, are debated to this day. Some believe that its origin is found in the early Christian Church as a part of a three-day span of remembering and honoring deceased saints and martyrs.Others believe that Halloween originated from Irish harvest festivals, more specifically from a holiday called Samhain. So, some believe that Halloween’s roots are monotheistic and some believe they are polytheistic.
One thing both can agree on is the other holiday that falls on October 31: Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk at the time, nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the front door of All Saint’s Church, a very popular Catholic church at the time. This event can be considered the start of the Protestant Reformation, and this event just celebrated its 500th anniversary this past Halloween.
Día de los Muertos
The focus throughout Día de los Muertos breaks down by each day with a one consistent theme for all three days. The holiday has a distinct focus on each day to equally remember all relatives and reflect on their lives. October 31 centers on deceased children, which is called Día de los Inocentes/Angelitos (“Day of the Innocents/Little Angels”), November 1 focuses on deceased adults, and November 2 is dedicated to visiting graves for decoration and celebration.
As you can see, Día de los Muertos’ heart is to remember loved ones and reflect on their lives on Earth. To show this remembrance, families build altars for each family member, and families place offerings on top of each altar. After the altars are built and offerings were given, families pray to Mictēcacihuātl for the return of souls to Earth.
The heart is and has always been, remembering expressed through altars, offerings, and prayers to Mictēcacihuātl.
As mentioned above, Halloween’s original focus is debatable, but the holiday does take place during the three-day celebration of Allowtide. October 31 can be called Allhaloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saint’s Day, and it is the prelude to Saint’s Day (November 1), which is the festival honor deceased saints and martyrs. The focus of Halloween was originally a celebration to prepare for the day of remembrance of deceased Christians. But again, remember, some believe that the pagan roots completely negates the church’s influence.
The heart of Halloween is quite different today. Halloween can be condensed into two main elements: candy and costumes. The heart of modern-day Halloween does not involve either monotheistic or polytheistic belief systems. The holiday has changed over the years, so the original focus, whatever you think it was, is non-existent.
The heart of Halloween today is not about any theistic belief system; the holiday is currently focused on candy and costumes.
Why “Reject” Día de los Muertos and “Receive” Halloween?”
Día de los Muertos
Again, I addressed this in last week’s post, Should Christians Celebrate Día de los Muertos?, and this is what I said:
“The reasons why I would reject the celebration for Christians are the following:
- Building altars and giving offerings to gods is idolatry.
- Believing the afterlife is transient and not eternal is heresy.
- The evolution is not enough to stray away from outright sin.
This is not always the case with other holidays or practices, but if any Christian is required to commit idolatry and believe heresy to celebrate properly, then you must reject it.”
To compare and contrast why Halloween is receivable, I’ll make it simple.:
Halloween’s possible pagan roots have evolved so much that the heart of the holiday is not celebrated through explicit sin. Unfortunately, Día de los Muertos still requires sin to celebrate accurately.
Jacob Luis Gonzales