In the United States, many families are still recovering from Halloween. However, in our neighboring country, Mexico, families are already celebrating a different national holiday known as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead is a holiday where families honor their dear and departed.
Traditionally, families will gather at the graves of their deceased loved ones to remember and pray for the dead. The Day of the Dead is truly a unique cultural celebration. Many rituals observed today can be traced back to those performed by ancient Mexican civilizations. When Spaniards and Catholic missionaries came to Mexico, they sought to integrate their religious beliefs with the indigenous people of the land. As a result, traditions of the natives were melded together to coincide with the Catholic religious holidays All Soul’s Day, (November 1) and All Saints’ Day, (November 2).
The two-day festivities begin on November 1st, when it is believed that spirits of deceased children are released from heaven to reunite with their families for 24 hours. November 2nd is when all other souls re-visit the earth. Families are known to bring food and drinks to grave sites to feast with the spirits of the dead. To show their love and respect, they clean the graves and decorate them with sugar skulls and marigolds, a traditional flower used to honor the dead.
The tradition of sugar skulls, which is a popular image associated with Day of the Dead, bear similarities to Aztec rituals of using skulls as trophies symbolizing death and rebirth. Today, sugar skulls are made to represent the soul of the departed. In the States, sugar skulls are exploding in pop culture. You’ll find sugar skull inspired art on clothing, in works created by street artists, and as tattoos. They’re even making an appearance in some of our popular Halloween costumes this year, such as the ones below.
This colorful and festive holiday is becoming a tradition that is widely acknowledged by many Americans as Mexican-American families share their heritage in the US. If Dia de los Muertos is one of your favorite holidays, leave us a comment below to share your favorite family tradition.