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Día de los Muertos Explained

Día de los Muertos, also called Day of the Dead, is a holiday that originated in Mexico and Central America. It is a time to honor the dead and invite them in, amongst their loved ones. There are a few significant elements commonly seen while celebrating this holiday.

dia de los muertos products sugar skulls

What do sugar skulls, marigolds and monarch butterflies have in common? Just like pumpkins, witches and black cats are quintessential symbols of Halloween, these objects are associated with a different holiday: Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

With the help of the Smithsonian Latino Center, Smithsonian Insider has rounded up five things you should know about this holiday:

1. It’s not the same as Halloween
While Halloween is celebrated Oct. 31, Día de los Muertos is celebrated right after, on Nov. 2. Many communities that celebrate Día de los Muertos also celebrate Halloween.

2. It originated in Mexico and Central America
Día de los Muertos originated in ancient Mesoamerica (Mexico and northern Central America) where indigenous groups, including Aztec, Maya and Toltec, had specific times when they commemorated their loved ones who had passed away. Certain months were dedicated to remembering the departed, based on whether the deceased was an adult or a child.

After the arrival of the Spanish, this ritual of commemorating the dead was intertwined with two Spanish holidays: All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2). Día de los Muertos is often celebrated on Nov. 1 as a day to remember children who have passed away, and on Nov. 2 to honor adults.

Today, Día de los Muertos is celebrated mostly in Mexico and some parts of Central and South America. Recently it has become increasingly popular among Latino communities abroad, including in the United States.