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Día de los Muertos: A Mexican Tradition, A Global Celebration

Día de los Muertos is a Mexican celebration of life and death. More specifically, it’s a day where families celebrate their loved ones who’ve passed away by honoring and remembering them. It’s celebrated annually from November 1- 2. During this period of time, families usually go to the gravesites of their loved ones to clean, arrange marigolds and place offerings or ofrendas which they build within their own homes. An ofrenda can also be called an altar in both Spanish and english.

Families decorate their ofrendas with an array of items such as:

  • Their deceased loved ones favorite foods

  • Drinks to keep them hydrated after the long journey

  • Candles

  • Marigolds (the vibrant color and strong scent of Marigolds helps guide spirits to their altars)

  • Sugar skulls

  • Incense (to also help guide the spirits to their ofrenda)

  • Pan de muerto (yummy egg yolk bread decorated with anise, orange and nut)

  • Personal items they enjoyed in life

  • Photos of the deceased loved ones

If you’ve ever seen the Disney movie Coco, you’ll have a better understanding of Día de los Muertos and some of this will ring a bell. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s highly recommended. It revolves around the Mexican holiday, giving people insight into the traditions behind these festivities and the Mexican culture in general. A little sidenote, bring tissues when you watch the film, it certainly is a tearjerker.

November 1 is “Día de los Inocentes” (day of the innocents) is also known as “Día de los Angelitos” (day of the little angels) which is the day that children can visit their families and ofrendas and enjoy time with their living loved ones. In English, it’s known as “All Saints Day”. The celebration begins on October 31 at midnight when the gates of heaven open and all the children have 24 hours to rejoin their families. November 2 is “Día de los Muertos”or in English, “All Souls Day”. This is when the gates of heaven open for all adults who can then spend the next 24 hours with their families.

The origins of Día de los Muertos date back about 3,000 years ago during pre-Columbian Mesoamerican times. During this time, rituals honoring the dead had come to fruition. The Nahua people and Aztecs who lived in what is now known as Central Mexico held a “cyclical view” of the universe in which case they believed that death was an integral and ever so present part of life. When someone died, it was believed that they went to the Land of the Dead and would need to pass nine different levels (all of which were difficult to pass) to finally get to their final resting place, Mictlán.

To celebrate Día de los Muertos, people dress up, to varying degrees, in skeleton and sugar skull apparel, makeup, dresses and tuxedos. The most prominent figure in Día de los Muertos is La Calavera Catrina which is an elegant female skeleton dressed in fancy clothing and brushed with beautiful makeup. Parades and vibrant celebrations are held annually. It is believed that the border between the Land of the Living and Land of the Dead dissolves and therefore, all spirits and living beings can dance together, play music together and eat and drink together. It’s seen as a day of celebration of life and honoring those who have passed on and keeping their souls and memories alive and in our hearts.

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