You have likely heard of the "Day of the Dead" or "El Dia de Los Muertos," but maybe you don't know what it is all about. Here is a quick guide to understanding this Mexican national holiday.
El Dia de Los Muertos is a national holiday in Mexico that honors departed family members. It is a day for the living to connect with those who have passed. It was originated through a combination of indigenous Aztec rituals with Catholicism and was brought to Mexico by Spanish conquistadores.
It is believed that at midnight on October 31st, the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. After that unification, on November 2nd, the adults spirits come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them by their living family member.
FUN FACT: Day of the Dead wasn't always celebrated on October 31st. It was originally celebrated on the 9th month on the Aztec Solar Calendar, usually August, and was celebrated for the entire month. It was moved to October 31 to align with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2).
There is one person that you need to know about for this holiday: Catrina. Catrina is a skeleton created by Jose Guadalupe Posada. She is a costumed in a fancy French hat that is a parody of a Mexican upper-class female. Many women have their faces painted during this time to represent Catrina. The skull and skeleton figurines that have become mainstream are based on Catrina.
Though it is mainly a Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in various parts of Latin America as well as in border states such as Texas and Arizona.
Mexicans are very spiritual people. The connection after death with the living is something that inspires great faith in the country.
Shrines. Families build elaborate shrines for the dead. Families bring candles, flowers, and the deceased's favorite foods to their gravesite to create an offering. Shrines are also created at home with a picture of the deceased and are adorned with the deceased's favorite items; whether it's food, a bottle of tequila, or toys for deceased children. They believe the deceased can still enjoy these offerings.
Marigolds. Marigolds are the official flower. Shrines include orange Mexican marigolds (cempasuchitl) which are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.
Bread of the Dead. Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) is a symbolic way of honoring loved ones. It is a sweet roll that is decorated with bone-shaped pieces to represent the deceased. The top is decorated with a single tear drop that represents tears for the living. It is round in shape to portray the circle of life. Aside from bread, sugar skulls bearing the names of the deceased are eaten by a relative or friend.
Wendy Castellanos is the Vice President of Communications for the Association of Mother Immigration Attorneys (AMIGA Lawyers). She spent 12 years climbing the corporate ladder at Nordstrom Corporate in Seattle, WA and was most recently an Instructional Designer. Due to immigration circumstances, she relocated to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where she is a proud wife to her husband, Eli, and a proud mother to her son, Max Elliott. For more information about AMIGA, follow us on Facebook and Twitter @AMIGALaywers and #AMIGALawyers, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.