1. Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a national holiday celebrated in Mexico to celebrate the spirits of the deceased.
The two day long celebration consists of a wide variety of traditions and rituals to reflect an honor those who have passed.
2. It’s been around for quite some time.
The celebration can be traced back thousands of years to the Aztecs. They would celebrate the deceased while also honoring the goddess Mictecacihuati, the queen of the Underworld.
3. One day just wasn’t enough!
When the celebration started thousands of years ago, it lasted the entire 9th month of the Aztec calendar. Now it’s celebrated over two days: November 1st to celebrate deceased children and November 2nd to celebrate the deceased adults.
4. The celebration almost ended… for good.
The holiday almost died when the Spaniards believed the holiday to be sacrilegious and tried to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism. However, the tradition lived on, but it was moved to November to coincide with All Saints’ Day.
5. The most iconic skull wasn’t meant for the holiday.
The symbol of the skull has been around since beginning of the holiday. La Calavera Catrina, or Daper Skeleton by Jose Guadalupe Posada has become the most iconic image associated with the celebration. However, the drawing was actually intended to be a parody of upper-class women in Mexico.
6. They believe the dead would rather be celebrated and not mourned.
After families clean off and decorate the graves of their loved ones, they stay up all night telling funny stories about their loved ones and socializing with one another. Some even hire musicians to entertain them throughout the night.
7. Shrine Making 101
Altars and shrines are built in people’s homes to honor their loved ones in which four elements of nature must be present: water, wind, fire (usually with a candle), and earth (usually with flowers.) In some regions, people open their homes up to allow guests to come view the shrines they created.
8. Shells are worn to wake them up!
How’s this for an alarm clock? In some areas, people dance around with shells attached to their clothing. The noise of the shells hitting each other is believed to wake the spirits up.
9. Marigolds are the go-to flower.
Marigolds, or cempasúchitl, are traditionally the flower that is used to honor the dead. They represent life, hope, and are believed to attract the souls of the spirits.
10. The spirits deserve some R&R.
Because the spirits have had a long journey from the afterlife, the living set up pillows and blankets so that the afterlife can rest.
11. The spirits take all the good stuff!
Once the celebrations are over, the families feast on the food that they left for the dead. However, it is believed the food has lost nutritional value because the spirits have eaten the “spiritual essence” of the food.
12. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t drink.
Along with the wide variety of food that is offered, relatives leave spirits to, well, give to the sprits!
13. The skulls are so sweet.
One popular tradition is to make colorful candy made skulls out of sugar. Often they are decorated with the names of the deceased on the forehead of the skull.