How Do Day of the Dead and All Saints Day Compare?
All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead happen around the same time every year. Sometimes, those who celebrate these holidays talk about "the Days of the Dead." This is because they actually span November 1st and November 2nd. While the Days of the Dead fall on the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, they have several key differences.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day originated within the Catholic church and are celebrated by Catholics and Anglicans. In Catholicism, it is common to give each saint a Feast Day during the year. In 609 CE, the Catholic church created a day commemorating all holy martyrs. In 837 CE, the holiday was moved to November 1st and expanded to include all saints.
The Days of the Dead have their roots in pre-Christian indigenous culture. They do not have anything to do with honoring saints and martyrs specifically, but are for remembering loved ones who have passed away.
Innocents, Saints, Family, and the Faithful Departed
Though the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day and el Dia de los Innocentes and el Dia de los Muertos all honor the dead, they differ in exactly who they honor. November 1st is both All Saints Day and el Dia de los Innocentes. All Saints Day is for honoring all of the Catholic saints and martyrs, and essentially serves as a catchall feast day. El Dia de los Innocentes (or el Dia de los Angelitos) is for honoring and welcoming the souls of children ("little Angels") who have passed on. November 2nd is All Souls Day and el Dia de los Muertos. All Souls Day is for honoring the faithful departed currently in purgatory. El Dia de los Muertos is for honoring and welcoming the souls of departed loved ones.
Celebrating the Dead
All Saints Day and All Souls Day are not celebrations the way many modern people might think when they hear the word "celebration." They are considered days of obligation, when Catholic people are supposed to attend mass, remember the saints and martyrs, and pray for the faithful departed. Some may choose to light candles and visit the graves of departed family. Some cultures also light incense, repair grave markers, weed cemeteries, or decorate grave sites with flowers.
El Dia de los Innocentes and el Dia de los Muertos are very different. They celebrate the lives of the deceased just as much as they welcome their souls back to visit. Participants prepare celebratory foods, like candied pumpkin and pan de muerto. Altars are set and adorned with marigold flowers, homes are decorated, and there are parties with costumes and dancing.
Though the Catholic holidays and the Days of the Dead are very different in practice, they do have one key similarity -- they both serve to recognize how fragile life can be. These days serve as a reminder for Catholics to remain virtuous, for judgment and purgatory are never far away. They also serve as a reminder for those who celebrate el Dia de los Muertos to celebrate life and not fear death, for it comes to everyone.
Preparing for the Days of the Dead
Whether you celebrate the Catholic holidays or the Days of the Dead, this time of year is for remembrance and preparation to honor the souls of the departed. Get ready to remember your lost loved ones, whether that is by setting up an altar in your home set with candles, incense, photographs, and offerings, or by visiting mass and praying for them. Remember the lives of your loved ones, the hopes, dreams, and little quirks that made them unique. Prepare their favorite foods. Tell stories about them. Feel either their presence around you, or the impact they have made on your life.
El Dia de los Innocentes and el Dia de los Muertos are so important to the people who celebrate them, even some government buildings have altars set up to remember and celebrate the departed. Though the Days of the Dead are not the same as the Catholic All Saints Day or All Souls Day, all of these days serve as a reminder of the beauty and fragility of life.