The day of the dead, or more commonly known as “Dia De Los Muertos”, is a holiday celebrated in Anglophone countries. In Mexico, it is a recurrent public holiday.
One particular tradition associated with Dia De Los Muertos is building an altar for the departed. This includes placing the late ancestors favorite food or candy at their grave. During Dia De Los Muertos festivities, food is both eaten by living people and given to the spirits of their departed ancestors as ofrendas (“offerings”). Tamales are one of the most common dishes prepared for this day for both purposes.
Along with this, flowers ; specifically orange mexican marigolds, are also placed at ofrendas. The orange mexican marigolds are meant to be spread out across the ancestors grave site because legend says that it will help the “soul of the departed find their way back to their family.”In addition to celebrating with food, drink, and activites the dead enjoyed in life, families clean and decorate grave sites of loved ones. Dia De los Muertos is split into 3 consecutive days.
On October 31st, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to visit them in the land of the living. On November 1, All Saints Day, the adult spirits are then welcome to visit their loved ones who are still alive. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. Throughout all three day’s, a fiesta is thrown throughout the town, village, or home which is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.
A common symbol of the holiday is the skull, which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for skeleton), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. These sugar skulls can be given as gifts to both the dead and the living. Sugar art was brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century. According to Caryl-Sue from The National Geographic, the first Church mention of sugar art was from Palermo at Easter time when little sugar lambs and angels were made to adorn the side altars in the Catholic Church.
Mexico, abundant in sugar production and too poor to buy fancy imported European church decorations, learned quickly from the friar’s how to make sugar art for their religious festivals.The holiday dates back 3,000 years, during the time of the Aztecs. The tradition of celebrating the dead has survived through the 16th century, when the Spanish had arrived to central Mexico. However, when the mexicans learned of the original purposes and beliefs of the holiday, they found it to be insulting to their religious beliefs.
Instead of it abolishing it, nevertheless, they decided to incorporate elements of Christianity into it. Elements such as celebrating it on November 1 and 2 instead of on its original summer observance to coincide with All Saints’ or All Souls’ Day.Over the last several years, a growing number of people of Mexican descent and other Latin American descent have celebrated Dia De Los Muertos throughout the U.S.
Historically, the festivities and traditions associated with Dia De Los Muertos were popular in only indigenous areas of Mexico, but in the 1980’s, the celebration spread to more urban areas of the country. The holiday has consistently been linked to the Mexican working class, but the country’s middle class had rediscovered it in recent years for two major reasons; the celebrations appearance in pop culture, and its popularity in the U.S.In many American communities with Mexican residents, Day of the Dead celebrations are very similar to those held in Mexico. In some states such as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona the celebrations tend to be mostly traditional, while in Santa Ana, CA it’s said that they hold the “largest event in Southern California” honoring Día de Muertos. The event is called the annual Noche de Altares, which began in 2002. Mexican Americans gather from all across the country to attend the event to honor their loved ones who have passed on. While Dia De Los Muertos may be centered around remembering those that have passed on, it is also about the strength in family and being able to heal from one another rather than face the pain of loss alone.