Dia de los Muertos

During the Halloween season, there is a gigantic spike in sales of candy corn and witch hats. Halloween is a time for kids and adults to dress up, have fun and eat way too much sugar. Watching scary movies and reading true ghost stories are just a few examples for this holiday season. However, Oct. 31, is about so much more than fake blood and trick-or-treating. It’s about the beginning of the Day of the Dead, also known as Dia de los Muertos.

The Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican holiday which is predominantly celebrated in central America. Beginning on Oct. 31, this holiday is a three- day long celebration of ancestors and relatives that have passed to the other side. The Aztecs were the first ones to celebrate the Day of the Dead. However, their version of the holiday began in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar -around the beginning of August- and lasted the entire month. Originally, the festivals were meant to honor the Goddess of Death, Mictecacihuatl. In 1521, when the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, the Day of the Dead was changed to the dates that are currently used today. This is because All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, the traditional Catholic holidays of Spain, fall on the first and second of November and the premise of celebrating lost relatives are the same.

The Aztecs were originally polytheistic people, but after the Spaniards conquered South America the national religion became Catholic. Today, it is believed that on Oct. 31, the spirits of dead children are able to return to their homes, spend time with their families and visit their friends. On Nov. 1, also known as All Saints Day, the people honor deceased children and infants. It is also the day deceased adult spirits are able to return to their families. All Souls Day is celebrated on Nov. 2, and is when families spend time decorating the graves of their lost relatives.

The Day of the Dead has many traditions. These traditions are generally done to make contact with the deceased’s spirit. One of the most important traditions is the creation of an altar. Altars are generally placed in homes. In countries that the Day of the Dead is widely celebrated, altars are commonly placed in public facilities, as well. Offerings for the dead, or ofrenda, are placed in the altars. These gifts can be fresh flowers, candles, incense, water, sugar skulls, pan de muerto, memorabilia from the deceased or the deceased’s favorite food. Sugar skulls and pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, are  two traditional items of the Day of the Dead celebration.

Spanish teacher Mrs. Shelly Chicos said, “They often have parades in which they mock death. They have skeletons, candies, and dead bread. Which is a way to honor the dead with food.”

Sugar skulls are deliciously sweet, colorful skulls shaped to resemble a human skull. They can be purchased at almost any store in Mexico during the weeks before the Day of the Dead, but are often homemade. They are created from sugar and are decorated with colorful icing, sequins, shiny foil and glitter. Sugar skulls are given as gifts, to both the dead and alive, often with the recipient’s name across the forehead written in icing. Despite being shaped like human skulls, these cute little candies are meant to be bright and cheery, which is why they are so colorful and cheerful.

Another tradition the people take part in is decorating the graves of their lost loved ones. First, the families will clean the graves out of respect and build big arches of lovely marigolds, or cempasu chil. Photos, mementos and gifts are also placed on the deceased relative’s grave. Candles are burnt and the scent of incense is meant to guide the spirit home to their loved ones. The event is a social gathering in the cemetery. Often picnics are held, and music is played. In America, people would probably find this behavior insensitive, but in Mexico, death is not viewed as taboo- it is meant to be celebrated. It is a day of remembrance.

Dia de los Muertos is a joyful and colorful holiday meant to celebrate the lives and deaths of lost relatives and ancestors. The local people try to reduce their fear of death using laughter and tradition. The Book of Life, directed by Jorge Gutierrez, is an animated film about the traditions of Mexico. Not only is the movie incredibly appealing to the eyes, hilarious and adorable, it gives insight to the Day of the Dead and how Mexican people view death and this celebration in general.