Blending Día de los Muertos with Halloween
Many Latinos individuals passionately declare: “Día de los Muertos is not Mexican Halloween.” This statement is also being echoed by non-Latinos individuals. Drawing a clear line between these two holidays is an essential step to preserve the integrity of Mexico’s cultural heritage and to distinguish it from the widely popular American culture. However, as someone who celebrates Día de los Muertos and appreciates its culture and significance, I believe it’s time for complete cultural acceptance that bridges the gap between these two celebrations.
The influence of Halloween is transforming Día de los Muertos into a hybrid cultural tradition that simultaneously honors the deceased and celebrates life. It is a traditional festival of remembrance for the dead, observed on November 1st and 2nd in Mexico and other Latin American regions.
It is celebrated through formal rituals, such as creating ofrendas (altars) filled with offerings and decorating graves, as well as spending time conversing with the deceased on the Day of the Dead. People come together in community plazas and community centers, dancing, playing music, feasting, imbibing, and donning masks that represent death.
While Día de los Muertos is an ancient tradition in Mexico, it was not widely observed on a large scale, or publicly, in the United States until the 1970s and 1980s when artists and activists introduced it within their communities. This movement was part of the Chicano Movement, which aimed to empower Mexican-Americans socially and culturally.
As Latinos individuals in the United States began to take pride in and celebrate this holiday publicly, they also worked to distinguish it from Halloween, which often led to misconceptions. To protect the cultural heritage and promote broader awareness and respectful treatment of these traditions, the phrase “It is not Mexican Halloween” was used.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the tourism industry in Mexico also utilized this statement to emphasize that It was a documented national holiday unrelated to Halloween, bringing it to the attention of tourists. Tourists were informed that Día de los Muertos is a legitimate national holiday with no connection to Halloween.
Día de los Muertos: A Cultural Evolution(1990s and 2000s)
During the early 1990s, “Día de los Muertos is not equivalent to Mexican Halloween” emerged as a significant political declaration. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) brought American goods, media, and popular culture to Mexico. Some Mexicans saw Halloween’s arrival as a symbol of American “cultural imperialism,” a term used to describe how the United States uses culture to maintain political and economic dominance over Mexico.
However, by the early 2000s, Mexican, American, and British anthropologists alerted the public that Halloween was merging with Día de los Muertos in appealing ways. Halloween candies, costumes, and decorations were prominently displayed in stores and markets, often shown alongside Día de los Muertos materials. Jack-o’-lanterns and cobweb-covered altars, constructed to honor the dead, were popular.
In southern Mexico, bars and nightclubs hosted Halloween and Día de los Muertos costume parties for adults, while some Mexicans perceived Halloween as an “invasion.” Some saw Halloween as “cultural pollution.”
Such concerns led the United Nations to officially categorize it as an “intangible cultural heritage” in 2003, a classification reserved for cultural traditions like rituals, oral traditions, and performing arts that are at risk of being lost due to globalization or neglect. This designation empowered the United Nations to work with the Mexican government to “safeguard and preserve” Día de los Muertos, protecting it from possible Halloween-related influences. However, it came quite late.
A Mexican Fusion
Today, Halloween in Mexico has become a target of Día de Los Muertos like never before. During the Día de los Muertos season, children dress up in costumes for an entire week. They chant “Queremos Halloween!” – which translates to “We want Halloween!” – and go trick-or-treating at stores and restaurants. On November 2nd, the country’s largest cemetery, Panteón de Dolores, awaits you with graves adorned with candles, ghouls, witches, and pumpkins.
The fusion of Halloween and Día de los Muertos has been greatly facilitated by Hollywood. A prime example is the famous celebration at Panteón de San Fernando, a cemetery where some of Mexico’s most prominent figures and dignitaries are interred.
As part of the holiday festivities, the cemetery hosts a screening of “Night of the Living Dead,” with people dressed in Día de los Muertos attire watching it. In their Día de los Muertos costumes, hundreds of people gather at the tomb of Benito Juárez, enjoying candy while spooking the local American community with a zombie presence.
The influence of Halloween’s horror movies has had a significant impact on Mexico’s grandest Día de los Muertos celebration – the Gran Desfile de Día de Muertos, or the Great Day of the Dead Parade. Its inception as a parade in 2016 was inspired by a scene from the James Bond film “Spectre.”
Día de los Muertos Meets Halloween
Aside from sugar skulls and calacas costumes, participants in the parade also wear Hollywood’s horror costumes, often associated with Halloween. You can find children and adults dressed as characters from “Coco,” “Coco” being a beloved animated film about it. But when they put on the skull-masked Miguel, Ernesto de la Cruz, or Mama Imelda, it’s hard to tell whether they are in Halloween or Día de los Muertos attire. I’d prefer to characterize them as both.
And that’s where the crisis of identity lies, which Mexico’s Día de los Muertos is facing right now. Hollywood’s influence makes it harder to say, “It is not Mexican Halloween.” The blending of these two holidays is happening in rural and urban areas, on borderlines, and in the depths of Mexico. It’s altering the characteristics of this popular tradition and its formal practices.
Cultural purists may mourn it as a “contamination” of a sacred tradition. But they forget that change and adaptation are what ensure the survival of any tradition. It can continue to thrive, but it will evolve beyond Halloween’s bite.
Día de los Muertos and Halloween are blending, sparking a cultural evolution in Mexico. The fusion of these traditions is changing the way people celebrate, and it’s here to stay. This transformation highlights the adaptability of traditions, ensuring the survival and evolution of Día de los Muertos.
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