Why It’s Offensive To Wear A Day Of The Dead Costume For Halloween

Today is Day of the Dead, otherwise known as Dia de los Muertos. If you frequent Google like many other users, you will see that this Mexican holiday is being celebrated with a special doodle of the day.

The Google Doodle team explained the meaning behind the Day of the Dead.

“Its name is decidedly somber, but Mexico’s celebration of its departed souls overflows with color, music, and the unmistakable fragrances of its wonderful cuisine. To honor this holiday of mourning and remembrance, artist Kevin Laughlin has reimagined our logo as a string of papel picado, the vibrant, artfully perforated tissue paper that will drape windowsills and doorways all over Mexico tonight. Here’s to lively festivals and fond memories.”

What you should know about Day of the Dead is that it’s not the Mexican version of Halloween. The U.S. celebrates Halloween on October 31, while Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 2. It’s a celebration about those who have passed away.

Those who celebrate the holiday in Mexico wear sugar skull masks (known as calavera) and eat sugar skull cookies to honor their deceased relatives, according to the Arizona Republic. On the Day of the Dead, families will visit the gravesites of their loved ones and offer them flowers, according to the national Endowment for the Humanities.

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.

This holiday is also celebrated in parts of the United States where there are huge populations of people who have Mexican ancestry, and some parts of Latin America. Other countries that celebrate Day of the Dead include Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Guatemala. The Day of the Dead celebrations have increased in popularity in California, New Mexico, Texas, and other states.

But that hasn’t stopped most people from confusing Day of the Dead with Halloween. Hollywood Life started early by offering a makeup tutorial for Dia de Los Muertos. The celebrity gossip blog got it all wrong when it claimed that white celebrities love to wear this costume around Halloween.

“Day of the Dead is a popular Halloween costume previously worn by celebs like Kate Hudson, Kate Moss, Miley Cyrus and Sandra Bullock.”

Some people often think that the flower crown and sugar skull face paint is just another spooky costume for them to wear, but it’s a huge part of Mexican culture and tradition, according to Yreina Cervantez, a Chicano/a Studies professor from CSUN.

“People need to understand, that when they are wearing that calavera, when they are painting their face with that calavera, that it’s not just a mask or something to decorate their face with, what they are wearing is the symbolism of that eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.”

The calavera makeup has been seen on plenty of young people around Halloween in the U.S. It has become increasingly popular in recent years, and there are Day of the Dead costumes sold at stores like Party City. That’s the same store that came under fire for selling Native American and “Pocahontas” costumes. Just like dressing up as a Native American for Halloween is considered cultural appropriation, it’s also a form of cultural appropriation to paint your face as a sugar skull. Now, it’s become popular to wear both during other events such as Coachella.

Lara Medina, another Chicano/a Studies professor at CSUN, says that people need to study the history behind these cultural symbols before they decide to wear them as Halloween costumes. Instead, they get attracted to the colorful Dia de Los Muertos attire or the sugar skull makeup without wanting to learn the meaning behind it.

Contrary to popular belief, the Day of the Dead is not the Mexican version of Halloween. It’s also not a day of sadness, but it’s a day when Mexicans celebrate and remember their deceased loved ones. The best thing you can do on this day is to learn about the Day of the Dead at your local library, instead of Wikipedia. Attend an actual Dia de los Muertos festival with one of your friends who celebrates it.

If you’re not sure if something is considered cultural appropriation or not, then it might be. It’s best not to do it. And just remember that the Day of the Dead is not Mexico’s Halloween.

[Featured image Courtesy of Eva Rinaldi / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 2.0]