Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives. The families celebrate the reunion with festive food, drinks, celebrations and parades. Day of the Dead is celebrated each year from November 1st - November 2nd. Despite its name, the day is actually a celebration of life. November 1st is “el Dia de los Inocentes” or the day of children and All Saints Day, where the souls of children can be reunited with their parents. November 2nd is All Souls Day or Day of the Dead, where the spirits of adults can come back to visit their families.
A variety of offerings are set up on altars, usually consisting of favorite foods of the deceased, drinks, and of course, decoration. Marigolds are a common adornment, as they are thought to help guide the spirits back to the living world with their intense color and fragrance. Skulls (Calaveras) were used during Aztec ritual and were passed on as trophies during battles. The use of skulls in modern times has evolved into a much less grim practice of painting the skulls with bright colors, glitter and beads.
Still celebrated every year in Mexico, Latin America and among those of Mexican heritage around the world, the tradition dates back around 3,000 years to rituals honoring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The Aztecs who lived in what is now Mexico saw death as an integral part of life. They saw the universe as cyclical with life and death being a natural and sacred part of that cycle. The Aztecs worshipped a multitude of gods, including a goddess of death and the underworld named Mictecacihuatl whom was associated with both life and death.
The Aztec myths tell that Mictecacihautl was sacrificed as a baby and magically grew to adulthood while in the underworld. While there she was married and presided with her husband over the underworld. Mictecacihuatl is often depicted with flayed skin and a gaping, skeletal jaw. According to one myth Mictecacihuatl and her husband collected bones so that they might be restored by the gods and returned to the land of the living. She is said to be the “lady of the dead” and that she watches over the bones of the dead and swallows the stars during the day.
When the Spaniards came to Mexico and introduced Catholicism to the indigenous people they blended traditional Aztec worship of Mictecacihuatl and Christian beliefs and created Dia de Muertos and All Saints Day.
Day of the Dead is a beautiful way to remember, celebrate, honor, and reconnect with loved ones who have made their transition. This incredibly happy and celebratory tradition encourages us to remember that death is not an ending or something to be feared. It is simply a new beginning and something incredibly sacred, as we move through different phases of our soul’s journey. Let us celebrate the life of our loved ones more and mourn their death less.