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4 things you didn't know about the Day of the Dead

As a nod to Halloween's coming, today in Infinite Spur we want to talk to you about this festivity, its traditions and origins. As it´s the case with lots of celebrations, Halloween has took many forms during its history, and different countries celebrate it in different ways. In this post we will talk about the most relevants of them and we hope you learn something new.


As many of you know, even though Halloween became popular as an American holiday, its origins date back much earlier. Samhain, a Celtic festival in honor of the end of the harvest, during which, according to myths, the gates of the underworld opened up, giving way to the spirits of the dead to enter our earthly plane, is where its true roots lie.

Traditions such as dressing up or collecting and decorating pumpkins are based on this celebration, where offerings were made to the dead, in order to quench their thirst for blood, in the hope that they would not attack the living. Convinced that on that night the dead returned from their graves, the Celts, in order to walk freely, disguised themselves with animal skins and facial paint, in order to camouflage themselves among the spirits. And although trick or treating would not begin to exist as such until a couple of decades later, with the arrival of Christians in the Celtic lands, there was a behavior reminiscent of this childhood activity, in which the Celts left food in the door of their houses in order to satisfy the hunger of the spirits and secure their home from their evil presence.

However, as we specified in the previous paragraph, trick or treating would not take long to arrive in the form of a Christian custom known as “souling”. Souling was a practice carried out by those poorer members of society, who, in exchange for food, offered their services to their wealthy benefactors on the second day of November (all souls day), a day designated by the Catholic Church as a day of prayer for the recently deceased, promising to pray for the souls of their dead, to ensure a good transfer to the afterlife.

Over time souling would begin to be taken up by children, singing door to door, in exchange for sweets that would eventually become the predecessors of the current tradition.

But Halloween is not an exclusively Celtic or Christian holiday. Other cultures have their own celebrations honoring the dead and the arrival of winter, which we also want to talk about today.

Día de los muertos:

The most famous alternative celebration of Halloween today, and the one that today has more followers, is the Day of the Dead, originating in Mexico, although it is not the only one that we are going to talk about in today's post.

A day to remember those who are no longer there, the Day of the Dead, is perhaps the most popular Mexican holiday internationally. Easily recognizable by the use of facial makeup in the form of skulls and a crown of orange flowers as a costume, these are not simply decorative factors, but rather have a symbolic meaning associated with the true purpose of this holiday.

The orange flower, also known as Cempasúchil or flower of the dead, is a symbol of the brightness of the sun, which will guide our deceased relatives in their return to the world of the living. That is why, during the days prior to the festival, many Mexicans decorate their houses with this plant and many others decorate their hair with its corollas, as a complement to the facial paint of a skull in their faces, through which they personify their recently deceased relatives.

It should be noted that the celebrations last for a week, and they really begin on October 28, although November 1 has become the most representative date, since it is during that week that families place a seven-story altar, each one of those stores representative of the different levels of the underworld, which souls must go through in order to rest in peace. In these, offerings of two or three levels are placed (heaven and earth or heaven, earth and underworld respectively) generally composed of food or objects that were favored by the dead in life. These will serve as food or tools during their journey through the seven levels of the afterlife, in order to acquire enough strength to face the long and tortuous travel until they reach the end of their destination and are able to rest.

Other objects of importance in the festival are, for example, candles and candlesticks, which represent the ascent of the spirit and the love that guides the souls of or loved ones towards the altar, the plate of salt and incense, used to purify the soul of the dead one and prevent that it is corrupted during the journey or the lime cross, symbol of the four cardinal points and therefore, compass of the deceased.

As for the gastronomy of the celebration, it is worth mentioning the bread of the dead and the sugar skulls, which supposedly represent the deceased of the family. It is also typical to organize a banquet made up of rice, tamales, mole and seasonal fruits, such as oranges, tejocotes, jicamas and tangerines.

Regardless of whether these were the dishes favored by the living dead or not, and to eat them together with the relatives, in the cemetery where the resting place of that family is located.

Teng Chieh:

Teng Chieh or the festival of hungry ghosts is the name given to the celebration of Halloween in China. Although its date is not exactly the week before or after October 31, as it is celebrated specifically in the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, during the fourteenth night, a night that adjusted to our calendar would occur between the months of August and September. , its traditions and customs are similar enough to the other incarnations of the holiday to include it in this list.

Teng Chieh is the date during which the Chinese honor and connect with their deceased loved ones, in order to make their transition to the afterlife more comfortable. It is a night full of symbolism, which is used like so many other festivities in the Asian continent, to bring the family together.

The celebration in particular consists of the preparation (very similar to the day of the dead) of typical foods that are used as an offering to the dead. A small altar is made with photographs of the deceased where food, water, salt (to purify) and a paper lantern are placed, which will illuminate their path in the afterlife, especially for those who have not had a peaceful death or a decent burial. and later these lanterns will be launched into the sky, along with a small paper note where relatives leave a message to the deceased.

Large bonfires are also lit, as it was done by Celtic tradition, though this festival, as you can imagine, has very different roots.

There are two different stories about its origins: one that affirms that the origin is in a Taoist legend and another that it is a Buddhist myth that has a connection with the legendary figure of the warrior Mulan. Yes, Fa Mulan, the Disney princess.

According to Taoist tradition, the 15th day of the seventh lunar month is the birthday of the King of Hell. Throughout the month, hungry ghosts are forgiven and released. To prevent suffering spirits from causing trouble for the living, Taoists on earth chant sutras and offer sacrifices to the dead.

In turn, the Buddhist legend speaks to us, as we have already mentioned, of Fa Mulan, a legendary warrior who, according to Chinese myth, was one of the ten disciples of Buddha. According to the Buddhist myth, after the defeat of the ones and the defense of the emperor, Mulan had obtained miraculous powers and achieved spiritual enlightenment. One day, thanks to her powers, Mulan found her mother in the realm of the dead, however, she was not in a state of peace. Her neck, extremely long and thin, did not allow her to eat and therefore she was very hungry. Seeing her in that state, Mulan tried to help her, but all she tried was in vain, so she decided to go to her teacher: Buddha. This was the one who explained to him that in life his mother had committed many sins and therefore had been unable to achieve enlightenment and with it eternal rest. Instead she had been condemned to wander forever, incapable of any peace or rest. To help her, he told her, she should wait for the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, when everyone reached enlightenment, after a month of meditation and so, thanks to that offering that Mulan made on the 15th, her mother was liberated and was reborn in heaven. Thus, it is the anniversary of this event that the Chinese celebrate on the day of the Hungry Ghost Festival.

However, this is not our last alternative celebration of the Halloween holiday. There is still the Famadihana, the day on which the dead return to the earthly plane literally.


A funerary celebration typical of Madagascar, which although it is celebrated on the day commonly designated as Halloween night, is celebrated every seven years, it is a particularly morbid festivity, during which the inhabitants of the island exhume the bodies of their loved ones. dear ones, regardless of the state they are in and dance and eat with them.

The dead are dressed in silk suits, stripped of their old shrouds and dances and a great banquet are organized, in which their specialty is served the vary be menaka, a dish based on rice and boiled meat.

After the banquet, the dead dance with the living. The relatives carry the bones of their deceased, while they dance and once the Famadihana is over, they return the remains to their graves, so that they continue to rest. Now, the return is not done in any way. Before saying goodbye, they circle the grave seven times while the master of ceremonies gives a mass in honor of the deceased.

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