November 1st through November 2nd of each year marks what is known as El Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico; similar celebrations can be found throughout the world, as well. Like Halloween, it has strong roots stemming from Christianity, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. However, it is important to note that the Day of the Dead is not Mexico’s version of Halloween.
History of El Dia de Muertos
The origins of Day of the Dead festivities have been traced back to the pre-Hispanic civilizations that settled along Veracruz coast, and the holiday dates as far back as 1000 BC. It was once a month long celebration that had ties to the Aztec solar calendar, but later El Dia de Muertos was significantly shortened upon the arrival of the Spaniards during the 15th century. Although the newly colonized Europeans tried to convert the Aztecs, Mayas, and many other native societies to Christianity, the original inhabitants of Mexico refused to let go of their core beliefs. Today, El Dia de Muertos is a 2 day occasion and is a fusion between pre-Hispanic and Spanish-European heritage.
Tradition, Symbolism and Offerings
Skulls (Calaveras) and skeletons (calacas) are used to adorn the deceased graves and altars, which are commonly found in the family‚Äôs home. There is almost always a smile portrayed on the skulls, and they historically represent death and rebirth. November 1st (Day of the Innocents) is designated to remember infants and children who have passed, and November 2nd (Day of the Dead) is a tribute to the adult souls. Bright orange marigolds (Cempax√∫chitl) are used to lure and guide the dead to their awaiting family members, who are gathered around their loved ones’ tombs. This is a time to joyfully remember the dead, rather than grieve them. Trinkets/offerings (ofrendas) such as the deceaseds‚Äô favorite foods, drinks, toys (for children) and even cigarettes (for the adults who liked smoking) are left beside graves and shrines. When night falls, the altars and cemeteries glow with the flickering light of purple (symbolizing remorse) and pink (representing purity and hope) candles.
Visit Mexico for the Day of the Dead
Does a trip to Mexico during El Dia de Muertos festivities sound enticing to you? You will need to plan ahead of time and secure your flight, hotel and car rental in Mexico well in advance. Check out Top 7 Day of the Dead Destinations for some inspiration on the best locations to experience the occasion.