Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This special edition of our Cultural Spotlight looks at the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.
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Origin of Día de los Muertos
Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that honors the dead. Typically, this holiday is celebrated in Mexico, but there are also celebrations held in the United States. It lasts from October 31st to November 2nd.
Originating in Mexico, Día de los Muertos combines indigenous Aztec ritual with Catholicism as it coincides with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
The Spaniards brought over Catholicism when they arrived to Mesoamerica in the sixteenth century. Though many Catholic traditions stuck, they combined with native beliefs to create unique new traditions.
What Exactly is Día de los Muertos?
During Día de los Muertos, Mexicans honor their loved ones who have passed. They remember and pray for their departed family members.
This isn’t a time to mourn the death of a loved one, but rather a celebration of their life. There are all sorts of celebrations during this three-day stretch, including lots of vibrant colors and music.
Though the holiday has evolved over the years, November 1st was traditionally a day to celebrate the lives of children who have died and November 2nd was to honor departed adults.
Tradition of the Altars
Families set up elaborate altars for their loved ones, decorated with flowers, candles, and other ofrendas (offerings). Some common ofrendas include fruit, alcohol, toys, clothing, and photographs. They also burn incense. The altars are meant to welcome back the deceased. It is said that their spirits visit during Día de los Muertos which is why the altars are so special to families.
The flowers that adorn the altars and many other decorations for Día de los Muertos are cempasuchil (Mexican marigolds). These bright orange flowers represent how fragile life is. Their petals are often scattered to help the spirits find their way back home.
Sugar skulls are probably the most widely recognized symbol of this holiday. They are skulls made out of sugar that are decorated with icing, bright colors, and other adornments.
La Catrina (the lady in the hat) is a skeleton woman wearing a dress. She was initially created by José Guadalupe Posada as a satirical statement. This symbol reminds people that in death we are all the same no matter if we were rich or poor. Many people paint their faces to look like La Catrina.
Parades and Festivals
Unlike Halloween, Día de los Muertos is not a scary or spooky holiday. It is a time of celebration and remembrance. Throughout many cities in Mexico, there are different festivities going on to enjoy the holiday. Some include parades, open markets, music, processions leading to a candle-light vigil, and folk dances.