Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead is a famous holiday celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November every year, following the widely celebrated western pagan holiday of Halloween on the 31st of October.
Dia de los Muertos is a Latin American tradition with it’s origins firmly rooted in Mexico that honours the dead with lively and colourful celebrations. Marked as All Saints Day and All Souls Day, the celebrations combine indigenous Aztec rituals with modern day Catholicism that was brought to the regions of South America by the Spanish. The belief is that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on the 31st October (a similar belief in paganist Halloween, where the souls of the dead can possess you if you are not in costume) and the deceased are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. In turn, the living celebrate the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities that the dead enjoyed in life.
Sacred alters piled with food are created for each home, decorated with candles, colourful flowers, tortillas, water and soda, shots of mescal tequila, as well as folk art of skeletons and sugar skulls. Sugar art was brought to this area in the 17th century by Italian missionaries, who utilise sugar art in the Catholic church during Easter time with sugar lambs and sugar angels adorning alters in the church. Mexico decided to utilise this decoration due to the fact they were too poor a country to buy imported decorations but had ample sugar production abilities.
Each sugar skull represents a departed soul with their name written on the forehead, and the art reflects the folk art style of celebration with colourful icing, glittery adornments and intensive decorations.
On the afternoon of the 2nd November of All Souls Day, the festivities are then taken to the cemetary where the living prepare the dead to return to their slumber. They clean the tombs and decorate with flowers, play cards, dance and listen to local bands as they say goodbye to their loved ones. 1
Dia de los Muertos is a wonderful celebration of deceased ancestors and living spirits, but remember if you plan on having your own Day of the Dead style party you should always respect the tradition and religion that goes behind this beautiful celebration. Treat it with respect like you would any other ancient tradition.