Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an important three-day Mexican holiday to celebrate and remember the deceased. The holiday takes place from October 31–November 2, correlating with the Catholic All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2. In many areas of Mexico, children are honored on November 1, Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels), while adults are honored on November 2, also called Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased).
Celebrating the dead has been a tradition for over 3,000 years, and the indigenous people of Mexico kept skulls on display to commemorate the death and rebirth of their ancestors. In the Aztec era, Día de los Muertos was celebrated for a full month in August. When the Spanish Conquistadores arrived in Mexico 500 years ago, they believed the holiday was sacrilegious and tried to halt it but failed. They did succeed in moving the celebration to coincide with their Catholic holidays in November.
During the holiday, people celebrate their dead relatives with altars containing religious symbols such as crosses or rosaries, photographs, mementos, and even the deceased’s favorite food and drink. They build these altars and burn incense to attract the souls of their loved ones, and they spend time talking to the spirits, often sharing touching or funny stories.
The cemetery is another celebration site where people go to be with their loved ones’ souls. Families dance, have picnics, and decorate gravesites with flowers, candles, and toys for children or tequila for adults. Some families stay overnight at the graves. Candy and a sweet bun known as pan de muerto (bread of the dead) are also placed at the gravesite as gifts.
Calaveras (skulls) play a large part in today’s Días de los Muertos just as they did thousands of years ago. Families may wear wooden skull masks or give each other skulls made of sugar, and a popular figure seen in many celebrations is La Calavera de la Catrina, a female with a skull instead of a face.
Día de los Muertos is an example of the way Mexican culture reacts to death. The people celebrate the lives of the departed, and they find happiness within their pain. They regard death as a part of life, and they revere loss while enjoying its lighter side. Some may find their customs and beliefs morbid, but Mexicans live with death and accept it with dignity and grace.
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