Who celebrates Day of the Dead? It isn't just a Mexican holiday. Here's everything to know

Day of the Dead, All Souls’ Day or Día de Muertos, is one of the most important Mexican holidays. The Mexican traditions surrounding the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated in different ways throughout a handful of cultures, began centuries ago in the Aztec empire.

Mexico’s indigenous peoples were having festivals to invite their dead loved ones back to the land of the living long before the Spanish showed up. But after the Spanish settled Mexico, those festivals became incorporated into the Catholic version of the holiday, All Souls’ Day.

A common misconception is that Día de Muertos is a “Mexican Halloween.” But although the origin of Halloween is similar to the themes in the Mexican Day of the Dead, it is not similar to modern Halloween celebrations.

Here’s how the Day of the Dead is celebrated across the world, who celebrates and the meaning behind the sugar skull.

When is Día de los Muertos?

Day of the Dead is observed on All Souls’ Day, which has been celebrated on November 2 since the 11th century.

But in Mexico, Día de Muertos celebrations typically start a few days before Halloween, on October 28. Each day within that time frame is attributed to people who died in different ways – like at a young age or in an accident. November 1 is set aside as a day to honor those who passed after leading a pure life, especially children.

Opinion: A white mom of Mexican American kids, Dia de los Muertos taught me about preparing for death

Who celebrates Day of the Dead?

Día de Muertos is most widely celebrated in Mexico, where it’s developed into a huge moneymaker for the country, namely Mexico City. In the U.S. cities with a significant amount of Mexican residents – like some cities in California, New Mexico, Texas and more – have street fairs, parades and celebrations for Día de Muertos. Here are other celebrations:

BREAD LOAFS IN ECUADOR: Worldwide, Catholics celebrate All Souls’ Day on the Day of the Dead. Ecuador’s version of Día de Muertos is called El Día de los Difuntos, which means day of the deceased. Celebrations for Día de los Difuntos are similar to Mexican celebrations, but with loaves of bread baked in the shape of dolls or babies called guaguas de pan.

KITES IN GUATEMALA: On November 1, Guatemalans celebrate the Festival de Barriletes Gigantes, or the Festival of Giant Kites. Guatemala’s indigenous peoples believed that flying kites was a way to communicate with the dead. So on the Day of the Dead, celebrations in Guatemala include making a kite that honors special memories with your loved one or their favorite things and flying it high, in hopes that they will see it from the heavens.

CANDLES IN THE PHILIPPINES: The Philippines also honors the Day of the Dead. There, it’s called Undas and people bring flowers and candles to the graves of their loved ones who have passed.

CELEBRATIONS IN HAITI: In Haiti, the Day of the Dead traditions are melded with traditions from the Voodoo religion. The two-day festival includes rituals, dancing and singing and feasting. Some call on the spirits of their ancestors to honor and celebrate them and sometimes ask them for guidance in fertility to bring new life earth side.

An illustrated guide: What is the Day of the Dead holiday?

What countries celebrate Día de los Muertos the most?

According to a 2018 report from Travel Agent Central, Día de Muertos in Mexico brings in more than 7.5 million tourists from around the world every year, looking to experience the festivities and food that go with the holiday.

In 2022, Mexico News Daily reported that the country was estimated to bring in almost $2 billion in Day of the Dead tourism revenue.

Although Mexico has always celebrated the holiday, it’s become a much larger affair in recent years, following the release of a few popular movies about the Day of the Dead, like “The Book of Life” and Pixar’s “Coco.”

The 2015 James Bond movie “Spectre,” has a scene set among a huge Day of the Dead parade in downtown Mexico City, which wasn’t previously a thing that the city did. But following the movie’s release, Mexico City started a Day of the Dead parade, which is an attraction for millions of people each year and usually held on the Saturday before the Day of the Dead holiday.

What decorations are used during Day of the Dead?

In Mexico, Día de Muertos decorations are bright and colorful, since it is a happy holiday celebrating the spirits of loved ones returning to earth to visit their families. Mexican families make ofrendas, or altars adorned in marigolds that hold photos of their loved ones, traditional baked goods and their loved ones’ favorite earthly treats.

Marigolds are everywhere during the Day of the Dead festivities. Their yellow petals symbolize the sun to help guide the souls of the dead on their journey back home. Some accent their marigolds with baby’s breath to represent purity.

What foods are eaten on Day of the Dead?

Markets, bakeries and sweet shops sell pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, which is a round loaf with a circle and crossed bones on it, representing a skull. Decorated sugar and chocolate skulls are also a big part of the celebration.

What is the meaning behind the sugar skull?

A stark contrast from the spooky skulls associated with Halloween decorations, Mexican sugar skulls, or calaveras de azucar, are brightly decorated skulls. Each skull honors a loved one and is often decorated with their name.

Is it Día de los Muertos, Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead?

Technically, all of these are correct. Mexicans most commonly call is Día de Muertos, because it is a direct translation for All Souls' Day. Día de los Muertos directly translates to All of the Souls Day, so there's little difference.

Day of the Dead is also correct, it's just the direct English translation for Día de los Muertos.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: What is Day of the Dead? It is called Día de los Muertos in Spanish