Day of the Dead & Halloween, not the same

11 years ago by in Uncategorized Tagged:


While the United States has exported its commercial Halloween customs across the globe, other countries still celebrate their own traditional Day of the Dead.

Every July 13, people in Japan celebrate the Obon, a two-day Buddhist celebration where the Japanese pray for the souls of their ancestors.

In the same way that Oct. 31 was considered by the Celts to be a day when the veil between the dead and the living was lifted, the Japanese believe that spirits reunite with their family during Obon. The living celebrate by offering fruits and vegetables for the dead.

A Norwegian traditional viking church is surrounded by graves.
Observer photo by Cristina Fernandez-Pereda

In Mexico, the dead and the living meet on “El Día de los Muertos,” on Nov. 2. On this day, the adult dead return to the living; childrens’ spirits visit a day before. All of them are honored with calaberitas de dulce, or sweet scalps, with the dead one’s name written on the scalp’s forehead and eaten by their relatives or friends. Another delicacy is pan de muerto, or the dead’s bread, which can adopt different shapes such as scalps and is covered with sugar.

In a tradition shared among most Catholic countries, Latin Americans go to the cemetery and decorate graves with flowers and pictures of their ancestors. Such is the case in Uruguay and in Argentina.

Other countries celebrate saints instead of the dead.

On Nov. 1, Spain celebrates El Día de Todos los Santos –the Day of All Saints.

There isn’t a pumpkin or costume to be found on this day. People go to cemeteries to decorate their beloveds’ tombs. The tradition in Spain implies spending part of the day at the cemetery, cleaning the tombs and bringing flowers to honor the dead. In the afternoon, the dead are mourned by eating small cakes like Huesos de Santo, or Saint’s Bones. The little sweets have a scary bone shape the size of your finger.

These old-world traditions are often at odds with current Halloween celebrations, where horror movies, costume contests and pumpkin carving is something increasingly found around the world. Often the older generations are the ones that keep up traditional celebrations, while the young begin to prefer the “American Way.” For instance, they will knock on your door and ask: “Truco o trato?”; “Trick or treat?”

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