Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a three-day celebration in early November that honors the deceased. It originated in Mexico, but is now observed in America, Spain, and many parts of Central and South America. The celebration is believed to begin on the evening of October 31st, when the souls of young children are said to rise at midnight. It continues on into November with Día de los Angelitos dedicated to deceased youth, and then on November 2nd – Día de los Difuntos, when the adults are celebrated.
An important thing to remember about Día de los Muertos is that it is not Halloween. Halloween is known for the fear inspiring spirits and the spook of death, while the Day of the Dead is meant to celebrate and honor those who have passed on.
To celebrate – families visit cemeteries to host vigils and bring offerings to their deceased, often this includes flowers, candles, and food items. Great parties are held that can involve the whole community! It is thought that those who honor their dead relatives will be blessed with good luck, wisdom, protection, and other well wishes.
In a more private setting, families will honor their deceased with sweetbreads and favorite foods, marigolds (the flower of death), as well as fresh water, sugar skulls, and various other trinkets. Skulls are often associated with the tradition and can be seen incorporated into the celebration.
Here are some things to be sure to incorporate into your Day of the Dead celebration:
- Ofrenda (offering): Construct your own offering and form an altar to decorate with gifts representative of the four elements. This can be a clay container filled with water, food (Earth), candles, and papel picado which are paper designs to symbolize wind. A lot of times flowers, incense and photographs of the dearly departed are included in the ofrenda as well.
- Dressing Up: Face painting and costumes have become an iconic part of Día de los Muertos. The most commonly replicated face-painting is the catrina skull that – thanks to an artist named Jose Guadalupe Posada, has become an iconic representation of death in Mexican culture.
- Food: Every celebration needs good food. So, don’t forget to bring the traditional Mexican dishes into your Day of the Dead celebration. Welcome the dead with their favorite foods, but be sure to also include pan del muerto (bread of the dead), and calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls).
- Family and Friends: The most important part of the celebration is who you celebrate with. Families come together in Mexico to make it a group celebration. Sometimes the parties are hosted at cemeteries where the loved ones of the families are buried to further honor their resting place. The day is spent praying, eating, and drinking.
Now that you know the meaning and joy behind the Day of the Dead you can properly honor the dead in your family with a celebration. Enjoy celebrating no matter where you are!