One of the things I hate hearing is people assume that Day of the Dead is the same as Halloween. They are two completely different holidays which are celebrated in different ways.
A lot of people do not know that this holiday is spread across two days, November 1st and 2nd. November 1st is the day for the “angelitos,” or the angels of deceased children to visit their families. The next day is when the adult spirits are said to come over from heaven to visit the realm of the living. People make their own “ofrendas,” or alters which usually includes a photo of the deceased loved one, some of their favorite objects, food, drinks, sugar skulls, candles, intricately cut paper banners, and many more decorations that serve as offerings for the dead. “Pan de Muerto” or Day of the Dead bread, is a common food item that is placed on the altar as well. There needs to be plenty of food and drinks for the spirits to consume after their long journey from heaven to the real world. For the day of the angelitos, people usually place toys for the children to play with while their spirits are visiting. Additionally, all the decorations are very colorful and vibrant, which is usually the opposite kind of color palette people think about when describing death. At my house, we have a table set up with photos of all the people we like to honor on this holiday. We have items such as alcohol for those in my family who enjoyed to drink, and each spirit has its own sugar skull.
Dia de Los Muertos is not only celebrated in households, but also during parades and at cemeteries. Cemeteries are usually places full of sadness, but during the first two days of November, it could easily be mistaken for a party. People will have mariachi bands or music blasting by the tombstones of their loved ones. This means that there is a lot of singing and dancing happening at the cemeteries. Tombstones are elaborately decorated, and offerings are also placed by them so their spirits can enjoy their favorite treats. During the Dia de Los Muertos parades, people paint their faces as sugar skulls and floral headdresses. This face paint is not done for people to be trendy or to have a good Halloween costume. It is done by the living to pay respect to all of those who have passed away.
In the Latin culture, we celebrate the lives of the dead, which is much different compared to other cultures. We do not grieve over the fact that we can no longer be beside our loved ones; we admire and cherish all the memories we shared with them when they were alive. These two days allow for their heavenly spirits to come celebrate alongside us. I love helping with the alter and going to visit the cemetery because death is something everyone faces. This is a holiday that has deep meaning and importance to many people, so I hope this gave you a better understanding of what these two days are about.