Why A ‘Day Of The Dead’ Calavera Is A Problematic Halloween Costume


We’re officially into November, and for many Mexican communities, the start of the month means celebrating  Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

This is the time where Mexican families gather at their clans’ grave sites,  bringing food and offering prayers to their departed loved ones.

They even eat sugar cookies shaped as skulls, and wear creative masks and makeup to mimic calaveras (skeletons) as a commemoration of the day.

But don’t get it twisted; Dia de los Muertos is not their version of Halloween.

“The Day of the Dead tradition has strong roots in Mexican culture, and has been celebrated for nearly 3,000 years. It was originally part of Aztec culture, but it then became intertwined with Christian culture when the Spaniards arrived to Mexico, where it coincided with All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day,” writes the Inquisitr.

Americans associate the calavera with the sugar skull aesthetic that has become popular as makeup, costumes, tattoos, and clothing; without really understanding the significance behind why it’s mostly donned by Mexicans only on the Day of the Dead.

It’s a fanciful way to dress up, for sure, but what you have to understand is that the calavera holds significance in Mexican culture, standing as a symbol of  the“eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth,” said Yreina Cervantez, a Chicano/a Studies professor from California State University.

And about Dia de los Muertos, while it isn’t Halloween, it isn’t a somber event either: in fact, it’s one big party for families coming together to remember their loved ones, offer them prayers and food, and visit them at their graves as they believe it is also the one day in the year when the spirits of their loved ones are able to visit our world again to be with their families.

If you don’t understand the importance of Dia de los Muertos, its symbolisms and cultural importance, and view it merely as something easily discarded to make way for next year’s costume or party theme, then you are honestly doing a disservice to the people who uphold the calavera with deep respect as part of their tradition and culture. In other words, you’re misappropriating their culture.


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