Halloween prepared me for “Day of the Dead!”

Halloween was important to me as a child and also an important annual event throughout my professional career! It prepared me well for the mysteries of the Spanish celebration, “Day of the Dead.”

As a teacher and administrator in Alberta public schools, I was blessed to work in a jurisdiction, Rocky View SD, that supported each local school’s parents’ and staff’s shared decision to provide children with an opportunity to appropriately celebrate a fun-filled maximum dress-up experience!

My good fortune increased by assignments to schools where students, parents and colleagues supported this love of creativity and craziness!

I absolutely loved my childhood efforts of carefully choosing just the right costume to match my favourite tv or movie hero of the day or that of a standard ghoul, goblin or character from the dark side of literature such as Dracula. With no qualms whatsoever about dressing up and marching arm in arm with our students, I  always had to be at the helm of our school’s Halloween planning group.

Many of the schools in which I served were blessed to have a broad base of ethnicities. The exposure to the cultural exhibition of the components of Halloween for our students from countries outside of North America was in itself one of the greatest aspects of the event!

“Day of the Dead?” “All Soul’s Day?” Let me Clarify. 

When I started travelling extensively to Mexico in 2006 I became immediately aware of an annual event called “Day of the Dead.” Most of what immediately jumped into my mind upon hearing the term was changed once I did some research and eventually personally experienced the spectacle.

My lack of ability in the Spanish language presented a hurdle while trying to learn about this cultural event at the grassroots level. I couldn’t even get consensus from my Mexican friends who have a significant ability in English, whether the event was called “Day of the Dead” or “All Soul’s Day” or how long the celebration continued.  After considerable due diligence, I called it a tie!

The Spanish term, “El Dia de Muertos,” was celebrated since Aztec times and the blending of holidays and inconsistency of titles reportedly came about when colonists arrived and it was blended with All Saints Day resulting in the names being used interchangeably in Mexico.

“Living it Up” during “Day of the Dead” in Colima.

I discovered that there are several aspects that are consistent about this iconic Spanish holiday regardless where the celebrations take place. Having said that, I have from personal experience learned that many places throughout Mexico and other countries including the USA have a local emphasis for the event.

Where Halloween is an every year October 31 date, “Day of the Dead” is celebrated somewhat differently depending on the location of Mexico. In Colima, the major celebration starts on Canada’s Halloween eve and continues through November 2. The years when these dates fall on a weekend are understandably most popular however even when falls mid-week as in 2018, the planning and energy level will still be full throttle.

“La Catrina,” displayed above is a term referring to a woman in a large, floppy, flowery hat long associated with the celebration. Women dressed like this are often seen during the celebrations in the State of Colima.  I’ve flirted with the idea of dressing up this way myself!

Stores, markets, hotels, the airport, public squares and private homes throughout the state display macabre symbols such as skeletons and coffins and other dark side symbolism. The street where we rented a home for a couple of years in the capital city of Colima had very competitive homeowners and we really had to step up our game to keep up.

We have been fortunate to be invited to homes of our Mexican friends to share in their personal approaches to celebrate. These include prayers to their dead family and friends, dressing up, music, dancing, singing, candy for the children, lavish meals of Mexican dishes and drinks and elaborate fireworks displays.

One aspect we’ve yet to experience but really want to try during “Day of the Dead” is visiting a cemetery. We’ve seen photos of local graves decorated with streamers, candles, wreaths, flowers, masks and written notes and being there in the midst of the festivities would be amazing. A similar experience in New Orleans several years ago left vivid memories and I’m confident this would be as unbelievable!

Personal Comparisons between Halloween and Day of the Dead

As I learned about Halloween while growing up, Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” is not a day to be feared. Granted in both, some costumes, activities and ways that the business sector benefits from shocking us in movies to flooding us with candy can be overwhelming. However, if we can limit these, both cultures provide a safe, enjoyable and truly memorable festive occasion for all regardless the age!

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