Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican National Holiday that is also observed in other cultures around the world. Festivals take place from October 31 to November 02, 2014 in connection with All Saints/Souls’ Day and Hallowmas.
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 and visiting graves with these as gifts.
Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. During the rule of the Aztecs, Day of the Dead was celebrated in August, with a month of festivities. The Aztec tradition centered on the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the Lady of the Dead. Early cultures often kept the skulls of their ancestors and displayed them during special ceremonies to honor death and rebirth. It originally fell around August, but the Christian conquistadors, hoping to assimilate the heathen holiday through the tactic of cultural mixing, moved it to the day after All Saints’ Day.
After Spain conquered Mexico, many indigenous communities converted to Catholicism. However, the Day of the Dead celebration remained part of the culture and was incorporated into All Saints’ Day festivities.
In the tradition of Day of the Dead, celebrants believe that the dead return to delight in the earthly pleasures they enjoyed while still alive. Dead relatives return in spirit form to visit with living family members for a few hours and then go back to their eternal world.
Many cultures believe that the spirits of dead children return before adults. For this reason, deceased children are often honored on November 1 and adults are celebrated on November 2.
Certain items, including candles, incense and marigolds are believed to encourage the dead to return for a visit. Families make preparations to help the spirits find their way home and to make them feel welcome, often starting with an arch made of bright-yellow marigolds – a symbolic doorway from the underworld.
Altars are created and piled high with offerings of flowers, ribbons, colored candles, sugar skulls and the favorite foods of the deceased. Two important items are a container of water, because the spirits arrive thirsty after their journey, and pan de muertos (bread of the dead). The loaf is made with egg yolks, fruits and tequila or mezcal, and is deocrated with, or shaped as, a symbol of death.
Graves are visited, maintained and adorned with candles, flowers and favorite foods.
The first day Dia de Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) on November 1st, is dedicated to children who have died.Toys are placed on their altars.
The atmosphere of Day of the Dead is one of celebration and rejoicing in the memories of loved ones. It is accompanied by music, picnics, storytelling, dancing, papier maché skeletons, vendors selling jewelry and other artifacts, costumes, an overindulgence in sweets and lots of love and laughter!
“Dia De Los Muertos” from WHoo Kazoo – A beautifully animated, and heart felt, short film about a little girl who visits the land of the dead, where she learns the true meaning of the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos. Student Academy Award Gold Medal winner, 2013.
Find a Celebration near you
Day of the Dead 2013 – Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA