by Photo by Sarah Berjan

This tradition-filled holiday fused with Mesoamerican rural, European religion and Spanish culture known as the Day of the Dead (el Dia De Los Muertos) is celebrated by Mexicans every year from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 to reunite with the souls of deceased relatives. November 1st is reserved for children who have passed and Nov. 2 for all loved ones.

Families welcome back the souls of their loved ones for a brief reunion that includes food, drinks and celebration. According to tradition the gates of heaven are open at midnight on Oct. 31 and their spirits are reunited with their families every year. Families create an altar at their homes consisting of pictures of the deceased family members, traditional "pan de muertos" a kind of bread made at bakeries for this specific day, as well as the items that the deceased ones loved such as their favorite music and food. The typical altars, as well as the cementeries, are decorated with cempasuchil flowers, orange marigold flowers and candles that light the altars and the tombstones.

November 1 is “el Dia de los Inocentes”, that is All Saints day.  Dia de los Muertos can be traced back to the Aztec and Nahuatl people  in Central Mexico who held a cyclic view of life as death within the universe. It was believed that a person’s soul traveled to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead. A person’s soul may reach Mictlán, a final resting place, after undergoing a journey lasting several years and consisting of nine levels. 

Nahuatl rituals honoring the dead are traditionally held in August where family members provide food, water and tools to aid the deceased in their journey. These rituals hold inspiration to modern celebrations. Modern practices of this celebration prompts people to leave food along with other offerings on their loved one’s graves, or altars called ofrendas in their homes.  

Calacas and Calaveras (Skulls and Skeletons) are the most recognized symbol of Dia de Los Muertos, and are everywhere during the holiday alongside sweets, marigolds, La Catrina and papel picado (perforated paper). Calacas and Calaveras are decorated with colorful designs and costumes as an expression of life. 

Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience. On par with birth, and growing up until the cycle’s end. During this holiday, spirits of the deceased are a part of the community as their lived experiences on earth are remembered and commemorated by loved ones.

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