-Día de los Muertos originated in ancient Mesoamerica (Mexico and northern Central America) where indigenous groups, including Aztec, Maya and Toltec, had specific times when they commemorated their loved ones who had passed away. Certain months were dedicated to remembering the departed, based on whether the deceased was an adult or a child.
After the arrival of the Spanish, this ritual of commemorating the dead was intertwined with two Spanish holidays: All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2). Día de los Muertos is often celebrated on Nov. 1 as a day to remember children who have passed away, and on Nov. 2 to honor adults.
Today, Día de los Muertos is celebrated mostly in Mexico and some parts of Central and South America. Recently it has become increasingly popular among Latino communities abroad, including in the United States.
-The ofrenda is often the most recognized symbol of Día de los Muertos. This temporary altar is a way for families to honor their loved ones and provide them what they need on their journey. They place down pictures of the deceased, along with items that belonged to them and objects that serve as a reminder of their lives.
Every ofrenda also includes the four elements: water, wind, earth and fire. Water is left in a pitcher so the spirits can quench their thirst. Papel picado, or traditional paper banners, represent the wind. Earth is represented by food, especially bread. Candles are often left in the form of a cross to represent the cardinal directions, so the spirits can find their way.
-The cempasúchil, a type of marigold flower native to Mexico, is often placed on ofrendas and around graves. With their strong scent and vibrant color the petals are used to make a path that leads the spirits from the cemetery to their families’ homes.
Monarch butterflies play a role in Día de los Muertos because they are believed to hold the spirits of the departed. This belief stems from the fact that the first monarchs arrive in Mexico for the winter each fall on Nov. 1, which coincides with Día de los Muertos.
Calaveritas de azucar, or sugar skulls, along with toys, are left on the altars for children who have passed. The skull is used not as morbid symbol but rather as a whimsical reminder of the cyclicality of life, which is why they are brightly decorated.
-It’s actually three days: Celebrations for the Day of the Dead begin on October 31. The following day is known as Dia de los Inocentes, during which the lives of deceased children are celebrated. Finally, November 2 is All Souls Day, when adults who have passed on are remembered.
-The unofficial mascot was once a political symbol: You’ll see many depictions of a skeleton dressed in high class clothing during the Day of the Dead. This is la Calavera Catrina, and she originally was used as a symbol of class warfare during the Mexican Revolution.
-The skulls mean more than just death: Skulls feature prominently in Day of the Dead celebrations, even down to making little sugar skulls to place on alters. In pre-Hispanic times, the indigenous Mexican population viewed the skull as both a symbol of death and re-birth.
-It’s meant to be both happy and sad: Humor plays a huge role in the Day of the Dead, as participants believe their deceased loved ones are laughing at their jokes along with them. At the same time, the celebration is also meant to prompt somber reflection of the lives of those who’ve passed on.
Most people enjoy doing Sugar Skull Makeup styles to celebrate, if you’re interested here’s some great tutorials:
-Did you know?
In 2012, Pixar announced a new movie inspired by Día de Muertos . One year later, the Walt Disney Company filed a trademark request for the phrase “Día de los Muertos” for merchandising purposes. As you might expect, the corporate juggernaut’s attempt to poach a millennia-old cultural tradition for toy sales was not seen as “magical.” Social media users loudly disparaged the move, eventually circulating a Change.org petition with more than 21,000 signatures chiding the attempted trademark as “cultural appropriation and exploitation at its worst.” Within a week, Disney canceled their trademark request—and soon announced that the film would be called simply “Coco.”
If you’re interested in learning more about The Day of the Dead celebration, or books that refer to Day of the Dead:
Coco – JV DVD COC or JV Blu-Ray COC
The Tequila Worm – Viola Canales (YA Fiction Canales, V)
Fated – Alyson Noel (Overdrive)
Six Feet Over It – Jennifer Longo (Axis360)
Like Water For Chocolate – Laura Esquivel (Fiction Esquivel, L)
The Hummingbird’s Daughter – Luis Alberto Urrea (Fiction Urrea, L)
The Butterfly’s Daughter – Mary Alice Monroe (Fiction Monroe, M)