Many Latinos have long stressed the distinction between Dia de los Muertos and Halloween in order to protect the authenticity of Mexican cultural heritage from the impact of American popular culture.
Día de los Muertos, celebrated in Mexico and parts of Latin America on November 1 and 2, is a traditional tribute to the deceased. It involves constructing altars with offerings, decorating family gravesites, and lively communal festivities. Initially, this tradition wasn’t widely celebrated among Latinos in the United States, but it gained prominence in the 1970s and 1980s as part of the Chicano movement.
The phrase “Da de los Muertos is not a Mexican Halloween” has long been used to separate the Mexican celebration from the American holiday. It helps keep Día de los Muertos as a special cultural celebration for honoring the dead with its own customs, like rituals, gifts, and get-togethers. This is important because some people who aren’t from Latino backgrounds often get confused by the skulls and skeletons associated with the holiday and think it is like Halloween. But as celebrations have changed over time, there’s been a mixing of cultures, and now we have a cool blend of both traditions.
To clear the difference between Día de los Muertos from Halloween, Latinos popularized the phrase “Día de los Muertos is not Mexican Halloween.” This was a response to non-Latinos mistakenly associating the holiday’s skull and skeleton imagery with witchcraft, aimed at protecting the tradition from misinterpretation and discrimination.
“Da de los Muertos is not Mexican Halloween,” became a political statement in the 1990s, spurred by fears about U.S. cultural imperialism in the aftermath of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations began to converge, with Halloween decorations and costumes infiltrating Day of the Dead celebrations.
To protect it from outside influences, the United Nations declared Dia de los Muertos as an “intangible cultural heritage” in 2003. Despite these efforts, Halloween’s influence on the Day of the Dead grew.
Hollywood played a significant role in the fusion of the two holidays. Halloween elements, including horror movies and costumes, infiltrated Day of the Dead celebrations. Even Mexico’s most significant Day of the Dead parade has featured Halloween-inspired costumes, creating a blurred line between the two traditions.
Disney’s impact on both Halloween and Día de los Muertos is substantial, with characters from Disney-Pixar’s “Coco” becoming popular costume choices for both holidays.
This blending of Halloween and Día de los Muertos is altering the traditional customs and festive aspects of the latter. While some may view it as a cultural “pollution,” it’s essential to recognize that traditions evolve to survive. Día de los Muertos may continue to thrive, but it’s adapting and transforming under the influence of Halloween.
As the lines between these two holidays blur, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to assert that “Día de los Muertos is not a Mexican Halloween.” The cultural intermixing is reshaping the way both traditions are celebrated and perceived.