What Is Day of the Dead?
Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), is a holiday that is celebrated annually on November 1st and 2nd to honor and remember those that have passed on. The holiday resembles All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which are celebrated after Halloween on the Christian calendar.
First developed in Mexico, the Day of the Dead is most notably celebrated in Latin American regions, although it is becoming increasingly popular throughout the United States, too!
Why Is Día de los Muertos Celebrated?
When the Aztecs first began observing this occasion over 3,000 years ago, their ultimate goal was to honor and celebrate the deceased as their spirits returned, not necessarily to mourn those who are no longer with us. While it is definitely still a time of reflection and remembrance, the main focus is to celebrate the lives that our loved ones lived.
How Is Day of the Dead Celebrated?
While it may sound like it could be a rather solemn day, the truth is that the Day of the Dead is actually quite the opposite. If you ever have the chance to visit an area where Day of the Dead is observed, you’ll likely be surrounded by several parties and festivals where there is always tons of food, especially at the “altar.”
Speaking of the altar, for Día de los Muertos, living relatives of the deceased typically build an altar in their home where they present the spirits of their loved ones with gifts, such as fresh fruits for example. Furthermore, Day of the Dead celebrators often enjoy snacking on delicious sugar skulls – yum!
One of the most popular ways to celebrate Day of the Dead is by wearing skeleton or skull masks. In fact, this tradition has caused for skeletons or skulls (or calacas and calaveras) to be the most widely recognized symbols of this holiday. But skeletons, food and flowers aren’t the only decorations used on the Day of the Dead (though they are the most popular). When it comes to decor for the altar, it’s also common to see collections of candles, photos, images of religious figures or religious symbols, and potentially even some toys for those who were still children or babies at the time of their passing. Chances are you’ll also see items that were valued by the person who has passed placed on the altar too.
In terms of attire and costumes, you may find celebrators wearing various types of noisemakers, which is a tradition that has stemmed from the idea that music is essential to create a celebratory atmosphere. Additionally, for those celebrations that take place in the United States, you can bet that those participating will have their face painted with the sugar skull as the foundation for their design. However, don’t be surprised if you only see half of their faces painted with skull and skeleton characteristics. This is largely due to the fact that Día de los Muertos recognizes that death is a natural part of life, and as a result, some celebrators choose to only paint half of their face to represent both life and death and their connection to one another.
Decorating with Flowers for Day of the Dead
Decorating for Day of the Dead is one of the most beautiful things about the holiday, and flowers are often a big part of these decorations. Flowers are often left as an offer from family members to include on their altar and at the grave of their loved ones.
The most popular flower offered for Día de los Muertos are cempazuchitl flowers, also known as “marigolds.” Why you may ask? Cempazuchitl flowers have a very distinct smell, and when paired with the right kind of candle, believers say that the souls of the departed return for a brief period of time to enjoy the pleasures of life once more.
But laying cempazuchitl flowers on the altar or at a gravesite isn’t the only way they’re used on the Day of the Dead. On occasion, the cempazuchitl petals are also laid out strategically to guide the spirits back to our world (think of them as being used as a spiritual path or walkway). Since these flowers are said to represent the fragility of life, it’s only natural that they are used to honor those that have passed on to the next chapter of life.
Additional Flowers Used for Day of the Dead Decorations
Although marigolds are the most closely associated flower with the Day of the Dead, other blooms are often used or found at the altars or near the resting pace of the deceased as well to honor deceased loved ones. Other popular Day of the Dead flowers include but are not limited to…baby’s breath, hoary stock, cockscomb, gladiolus and chrysanthemums. Similar to marigolds, these flowers are chosen for a reason such as their colors, scents and meaning. For example, gladiolus often symbolize remembrance, which makes them an ideal choice for this type of observance.