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Dia de los Muertos: Celebrate the Dead
From October 28th through November 2nd, Mexico—and to a lesser extent other Latin American countries—celebrate Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, to honor the dead through festivals and celebrations. These festivities include special food and drinks (as all the best ones do), setting up altars to commemorate the departed, creative art and face-painting, and visiting grave sites of deceased kin. The holiday is meant to celebrate the dead and acknowledge the cycle of life, with the belief that the dead are awakened on this day to take part in the activities, while also taking away the fear associated with death.
Día de los Muertos is celebrated to varying degrees throughout Latin America, but it’s origins date back thousands of years to an Aztec ritual led by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, or Lady of the Dead, and today, is most closely associated with the festivities that take place in Mexico.
Now Día de los Muertos combines Aztec ritual with Catholic tradition—an example of Mexicn syncretism—and falls on the same day as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar. Some of the best Mexican cities to celebrate in include Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico City, and Veracruz. But you don’t necessarily have to hop a plane to partake in the festivities: notable Día de los Muertos celebrations also take place in Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Join the Celebration
In Mexico, much of the celebration takes place in cemeteries; people will often clean and decorate the graves of loved ones and set up ofrendas—small personal altars to honor loved ones. These ofrendas include food, flowers, candles, pictures, and other personal items for the person being remembered.Calacas (skeletons) and Calaveras (skulls) dominate the decorations for this holiday, with these usually sinister items taking on a lively and vibrant personality. Catrinas are a specific type of skeleton representing wealthy women of the early 20th century that are popularly used archetypes.
Decorations are important to the celebrations too and papel picado, colorful, elaborately cut out paper with skull designs are hung as banners during the celebrations. The most popular flower used during day of the dead is the Mexican Marigold, also known as cempasúchil, or flower of the dead.
The flower is used to guide the spirits of the dead to the altars, which they adorn, and, as delicate flowers, represent the fragility of life in general.
No fiesta is complete without traditional snacks. Pan de Muerto, or bread of the dead, is sweet bread usually made into a round shape and layered with additional strips to resemble bones. This treat is made from a simple bread recipe that is sweetened and flavored with anise, orange, or cinnamon, then sometimes decorated with colored frosting. Sugar skulls are another iconic sweet, made of pure sugar molded into skull shapes and decorated with bright colors and designs.