The end of October brings two opportunities to celebrate the dead, but in quite distinctive ways.
For many, tomorrow is Halloween but for many others it is also the first day of the multi-day celebration known as the Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos.
And while there are critics of the former who worry that the two are merging into one big commercial blowout, particularly in the United States, Halloween’s effect on the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican tradition dates back a few centuries.
The Day of the Dead, recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage, used to take place at the beginning of summer. But centuries-old traditions clashed and coalesced with the irruption of the Catholic doctrine in the 16th century, giving modern Mexicans their current festivities in remembrance of the dead starting on October 31 instead.
Now, the modern-day Halloween, with its costumes and trick-or-treating, is being adopted by families throughout Mexico. This week, 40% of Mexicans are expected to celebrate the event, according to the digital catalog platform Ofertia.
Of those, 57% are going to wear costumes and 9% will give away candy to young visitors seeking treats.
Most costumes are bought ready to wear, said a study by Ofertia, with an average price of 556 pesos (almost US $29). Households will spend on average the same amount on candies for the neighborhood children.
But there will also be cash outlays for the more Mexican of the two events.
The study found the biggest outlay will be on bread, pan de muerto, which is baked only at this time of year. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents said they would be buying some.
Many households will also set up altars in honor of departed family members, buying candles, fruit, and the preferred food dishes and beverages of the dead being honored.
People set up the altars in their homes but the Day of the Dead tradition also entails visiting cemeteries to place gifts at the graves or even share a meal with the dead in their final resting place.
In México state alone, more than 5 million people are expected to visit cemeteries on the nights of Wednesday and Thursday, crowds that are big enough to trigger a massive security operation by state police.
Nearly 4,000 officers will be deployed to the state’s 1,317 cemeteries, reinforced by municipal police forces.
In the U.S., meanwhile, celebrating the Day of the Dead has been steadily gaining in popularity, to the point where a retailers’ association thinks it might become mainstream by next year.
A growing Latino population is responsible for the growth, but the 2015 James Bond film Spectre is also believed to have helped propel the event’s momentum. Filmed partly in Mexico City, it features a Day of the Dead parade.
However, there might be a limit to the extent to which the celebration grows. Critics say it has become “fodder for cultural-appropriating Americans.”
People who wear skull masks or don other Day of the Dead adornments are racist if they were not raised on Mexican culture, the argument goes.