I’d bet you didn’t know that Cinco de Mayo is more widely celebrated in the…
What is Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)?
Dia De Los Muertos, otherwise known as Day of the Dead, is a holiday that takes place on November 1st and 2nd. A beautiful celebration of the inevitable circle of life and death, it’s celebrated in many Latin American countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, and El Salvador just to name a few. Despite the fact that some people think it’s the Mexican version of Halloween, that couldn’t be farther from the truth!
Where Does the “Day of the Dead” Have Its Roots?
Dia De Los Muertos originated in ancient Aztec culture dating back to the 7th century and has grown into an international holiday. It is a very important occasion for millions of people around the world because it allows them to honor their departed loved ones while celebrating life.
Honoring deceased children and infants, cleaning their gravesite with flowers before decorating them with colorful marigolds and lighting candles allows spirits to guide them through the darkness of night to Mictlan, the Aztec realm of the dead. Dia de Los Muertos also honors deceased adults through various festivities such as dancing, wearing costumes, and visiting cemeteries to picnic and celebrate life with the souls of their lost loved ones.
Dia De Los Muertos: The History and Meaning
It all begins on November 1st, Dia De Los Angeles or Day of the Angels, which is a day that commemorates children who have died. The Mexican people have a strong belief in angels. It is believed that Dia De Los Angeles was moved to November 1st on purpose, so children who have recently passed could attend the celebration with their families without anyone missing them. Dia De Los Muertos was originally celebrated for one day only on November 2nd however over time it has become a two-day holiday.
Dia De Los Angeles is a time for many people around the world to take candy, flowers, and toys to children’s gravesites. On Dia De Los Angeles it is believed that the angels come to earth from Mictlan, the Aztec land of souls, in order to visit their families just as they would during Dia De Los Muertos. For this reason, the Mexican people dress up as angels and celebrate Dia De Los Angeles by bringing all sorts of gifts. Dia De Los Angeles has become a day where it is common for parents or family members who have lost young children to dress like an angel and perform dances in honor of their child’s memory.
But, What’s Really Happening on the Day of the Dead?
The holiday usually begins with a vigil and ceremony at the family’s home, and it is pretty much expected that everyone-regardless of age or cause of death-will come together to celebrate life. Dia de Los Muertos allows people to celebrate those who have died as well as those still alive by telling stories about them, visiting the gravesites of those they love, and creating altars dedicated to those they have lost which are filled with their favorite foods, drinks, and photographs. Participants dance to honor the dead, they make colorful costumes in order to disguise themselves as Dia De Los Muertos spirits or “Catrinas”, they visit cemeteries at night to picnic and light tons of fireworks. It doesn’t stop there though.
On Dia de Los Muertos people clean up the gravesites of their loved ones by replacing any wilted flowers with fresh bouquets. The altars are one of the centerpieces of the celebration, and they are usually decorated with marigold flowers because they are believed to guide the souls back from Mictlan. The food items on the other hand represent each soul who is being honored. For example, an Aztec sandwich is made of two pieces of bread with un-melted cheese in between them because it is believed that the souls of Dia De Los Muertos are still learning how to be happy and see the good side of life. The candles represent light, water stands for nourishment, salt here is synonymous with purification, ash signifies death, fire represents warmth, incense cleanses the spirits, and apples pretty much always (Thanks, Adam & Eve) signify temptation.
Day of the Dead: Not Your Average Halloween
Many folks tend to confuse the two, and to be frank it’s a pretty honest mistake. October 31st is Halloween, Halloween was originally a pagan celebration meant to honor the dead. The Mexican people have taken parts of Dia De Los Angeles and incorporated them into their Halloween celebrations which they refer to as Todos Santos. Todos Santos is one night during which it is believed that the souls of those who have passed on may return to earth. On Todos Santos, children or adults dress up like Catrinas or angels to disguise themselves as spirits- some will even wear masks made out of pumpkins! On October 31st Mexican people clean up the gravesites of loved ones and replace wilted flowers with fresh bouquets. The family’s home is also decorated to welcome any spirits who may return.
The day before Todos Santos- October 30th- is called Día de Los Inocentes which means Day of the Innocents in English. On this night Mexican people visit the gravesites of loved ones dressed like Catrinas and light candles for them. This day commemorates those who have passed away and honors their memory in a truly unique way and this is definitely something worth paying attention to.
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