Dia de los Muertos and Halloween: A tale of two traditions

Although they fall around the same time of year and seem to celebrate all things sugary and skeletal, Dia de los Muertos and Halloween are two distinct traditions that are not to be confused.

Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is celebrated on Nov. 2. This falls on All Souls’ Day, a Christian holiday set aside to honor the dead. Families in Mexico and the United States often take the opportunity to visit and clean the gravesites of friends and loved ones. Decorations are placed on the plot while families eat, sing and tell stories about those who have passed.

Ofrendas, or altars, are important tools for the tradition. They can be set up on the gravesite or in the family home. Photos of the deceased are paired with icons of favorite patron saints, sugar skulls, yellow marigolds and lit candles. Treats like mole, hot chocolate, dried fruit and pan de muerto make it to the altar as well with the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased. Ofrendas welcome the spirit of loved ones into the home.

Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, is celebrated on Oct. 31. While this is still a day meant to remember the dead, it is a relatively commercialized holiday that co-opts Celtic and pagan traditions. Some Christians celebrate All Saints’ Eve by attending church, but Halloween as we know it is angled more towards ghost stories and costumes than spirituality.

The Trinity University Latino Association (TULA), in collaboration with Norma Cantu, Murchison professor of the humanities in the department of modern languages and literature, is bringing a taste of Dia de los Muertos traditions to Trinity’s campus. An ofrenda display will be in place in the Coates University Center from Oct. 30–Nov. 3.

On Oct. 30, local ceramicist and gallery owner Veronica Castillo will host a workshop on campus to help construct the display. After the reception A reception will be held afterwards for refreshments and conversation. Castillo has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts and has been named a National Heritage Fellow. Her own artistic tradition is rooted in the indigenous communities of Puebla Mexico. Castillo will also speak to Cantu’s U.S. Latinx Experience class on Oct. 31.

The San Antonio community offers several rich ways to experience Dia de los Muertos as well. From Oct. 28–Nov. 9, Galeria Guadalupe is packed with ofrendas by featured artists, community groups and organizations. These displays are as artistic as they are personal and provide an intimate learning experience for viewers.

On Nov. 1–2 Pearl Park will host a celebration including ofrenda displays, music, processions and crafting. Regional artists, dancers and an all-female mariachi band are scheduled to perform.

Between campus and city programming there are many ways to learn and get involved in the tradition of Dia de los Muertos.