Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, started some 3,000 years ago by the Aztecs. Before the 16th century when the Spanish settled in to Mexico, this event took place in summer around July 24 to August 12 to concur with the 9th month of the Aztec Solar calendar. But over time it was moved to coincide with the Catholic triduum of Allhollowtide (a time to remember the dead), which includes All Saints Eve (Halloween – October 31), All Saints Day (All Hallows – November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico is a magical night where it is believed that the veil is lifted between the two worlds and you can commune with the dead. Since my birthday is on All Saints Day, I have always felt a connection to this festivity and Halloween.
The celebration starts on Halloween as people build altars in their homes, cemeteries and throughout the city in honor of loved ones who have passed over. Parades and parties are given to remember the dead. They believe that on midnight on Halloween, the gates of heaven open up and the souls of deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their family for 24 hours. November 1 is called Dia de Los Angelitos (Day of Little Angels) or Dia de Los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents). On this day family and friends are given a sample of the food offerings, ofrenda de muertos (the deceased offerings), to eat. On November 2, deceased adults get to participate in the festivities and the celebration moves to the graveyard
A form of The Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout the world, not just Mexico. Countries like Italy, Spain, Belgium, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Philippines, South America, and places in the United States all have ceremonies and rituals to honor the dead. Masses are performed, incense and candles are lit and people go to graves and pray to remember the dead on All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Graveyards are cleaned up and flowers and candles are placed as a tribute to the deceased. Mexico has vibrant and vivid festivities to commemorate the dead compared to the more somber ceremonies celebrated by the rest of the world.
In Mexico the dead are honored with sugar skulls, incense, wild marigolds (Mexican flower of death), pan de muerto (Day of the Dead breads), tortillas, fruit, soda and water for the tired spirits. Gifts, mementos and toys are left out for children while mezcal and cigarettes are offered to the adults. The scent of flowers and incense are to help the spirits find where the feast is being held. Families visit graves and place ofrendas (objects placed on an altar), like pictures, candles and gifts, to give to their deceased loved ones. Indigenous families can spend over two months of pay to honor their relatives. This ritual keeps the family close, provides good luck, protection and wisdom.
The festivities get moved to the graveyard on November 2 so that the graves can be cleaned and stories can be shared about their ancestors. Picnics and music can be a part of this graveyard celebration. Graves are decorated with bright orange marigolds for adults and white orchids and baby’s breath for children. Monarch butterflies return to Mexico each year at the beginning of November and it is believed that these butterflies are the returning spirits of the deceased. Aztec tradition states that spirits will return as butterflies and hummingbirds.
Dia de Los Muertos started when the Aztecs celebrated the goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl, the keeper of the bones. Today they have the modern Lady of the Dead, La Catrina, was a greedy rich woman who did not help the poor. Around 1910, artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, created a painting La Calavera Catrina, which became today’s face of the skeleton woman.
This is a happy and colorful celebration filled with music, food and parades and not meant to be somber. It is thought to be disrespectful to be sad because the deceased are visiting joyfully. Dia de Los Muertos helps us not to fear death, but to teach about the cycle of life, examine the meaning of death and to celebrate all who have come before us. It is a true celebration of life.
In honor of this day, I would like to celebrate the lives of all my family and friends who have passed on before me. I like to think they are still watching over us and celebrating in all the milestones of our lives. I believe they are still with us and for that, I am very grateful. Thank you to all the souls for their continued love and protection. You are truly missed. Love you Don!
Thank you to all the below websites for their detailed history of Dia de Los Muertos so I could share the stories of this celebration with you.