In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in some other Christian denominations, November 2nd is designated as All Souls’ Day, a special day which specifically commemorates the “departed faithful”. This holiday attempts to extend the care and help shown towards those in need here on Earth towards those who have already died, presuming at least some, if not many, benefit from prayers offered for them, even after death. In the Roman Catholic tradition, special masses for the dead of said on this day, and although attendance of them is often common, it is not a requirement.
Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians, there are several All Souls’ Days celebrated during the year. Most of these fall on Saturday, since Jesus lay in the Tomb on Holy Saturday. These are referred to as Soul Saturdays.
Historically, the Western tradition identifies the general custom of praying for the dead dating as far back as 2 Maccabees 12:42-46. The custom of setting apart a special day for intercession on November 2 was first established by St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048) at his abbey of Cluny in 998. The celebration was soon adopted in several dioceses in France, and from there it spread throughout the Christian West.
The “Day of the Dead” celebration (in Spanish “Día de los Muertos”) is a special culturally-oriented observance of the All Souls Day in Hispanic countries and communities which focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it attains the quality of a National Holiday, celebrated over three days.
Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. During the three-day period, from October 31st through November 2nd, people go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and there they will clean and decorate the graves as well as build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about their departed loved ones.