When people think of “Day of the Dead”, or “Dia de los Muertos” (in Spanish), they often think of Mexico. However, this celebratory holiday is not specific to Mexico. This day is celebrated by many latin cultures through-out Central America, including El Salvador where I live.
Do they celebrate Day of The Dead in El Salvador? Yes! However, it’s different than in Mexico.
Quick Note: It’s Not Halloween (There’s nothing scary about it)
Day of the Dead is not intended to represent anything scary. Day of the Dead exists to celebrate the previous life of the dead. Halloween was originally created to wear scary costumes in order to ward off ghosts (according to ancient Celtic festivals). As you can see, both cultures created these annual events for two very different reasons and therefore they are celebrated very differently.
In fact, “blood”, the symbol of life, isn’t represented anywhere in the festivities of Day of the Dead. It’s not about dying, or pain, or fear. It’s about celebrating those that once lived. White painted plastic skeletons are represented primarily, which represents the skeletons of dead ancestors. Flowers, bright colorful streamers, decorations and colorful apparel are heavily represented as well.
My First Experience With Day of The Dead in El Salvador
Today was my first experience with Day of the Dead in El Salvador. My girlfriend, her mother and I went to the cemetery where they have two burial plots with family members. I didn’t know what to expect, so I overdressed. It turns out people wear casual/relaxed clothes on this day.
When we arrived at the cemetery there was a large disbursed group of people. It wasn’t like the festivals you see in Mexico. There was no “festival” elements involved. At this cemetery, flocks of people were going to the specific graves of their passed ancestors, painting the graves with fresh bright colors and spreading flowers all over the graves. It was a very calm experience during a beautiful sunny day.
Also, I noticed that there were no skeletons. My girlfriend is salvadorena (a woman from El Salvador) and she explained that skeletons are not a part of the tradition in El Salvador. I also asked here about festivals and parades. She told me that El Salvador celebrates Dia De Los Muertos on an individual level. There are no festivals or parades. It’s a personal family experience, where families unite to talk about their ancestors and show respect at the grave site.
There are no festivals or parades…and that makes it more personal.
I was a little surprised to learn that there are no festivals or parades. However, I do like that it’s a more personal experience. I think that celebrating without central festivals gives people the opportunity to really focus on the graves of those that are remembered. People are less distracted by big floats, buying fancy outfits and commercialism in general. It’s more about respect and remembrance of family members that have died.
I’m predicting that this will change. I imagine that one day there will be festivals and parades in El Salvador, similar to Mexico. From what I’ve seen in my life, almost everything gets sensationalized and more commercialized. This will almost definitely happen in El Salvador and other cultures. People, including myself, are drawn to the excitement surrounding events. For anyone that’s heard of the “Macy’s Day Parade” that happens for Thanksgiving in New York City in the United States, that proves my point. People spend a lot of money during festivals and parades. However, I hope that doesn’t happen here, because I love this holiday exactly the way that it currently exists here.
Overall, it was a relaxing and pleasant day. Visiting the cemetery was a wonderful experience. It was great to see the community come together.