Thursday, October 1, 2009

El Día de los Muertos: The Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead Necklace available at Heartspace store

In Mexico and other Latin American countries colonizing Spaniards combined their Catholicism with the traditional religious practices of the indigenous peoples.  The Day of the Dead is such a synergism: a combination of the Catholic holiday of All Saints Day and All Souls Day with the cult of the dead, dating back to Aztec and Mayan traditions.  

Many cultures believe that as autumnal days approach, the veil between the worlds of the living and dead grows very thin.  The Latin American indigenous peoples prepare for the celebration beginning in early October, when the bakeries start selling calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls) and pan de muerto (bread of the dead) which will be used to decorate the altars in honor of long-gone ancestors and recently deceased family members.  

Furnishings are moved to make room for elaborate altars (ofrendas) within family homes. Arches decorated with garlands of marigold flowers stand at the head of the altars and papel picado: intricately cut banners of tissue paper are hung about the space dedicated to them. Framed photos of the deceased, as well as their favorite foods, objects such as cigarettes, military medals or jewelry that once belonged to them are favorite offerings.  Everything is planned to celebrate the lives of those who have died, as well as to entice their spirits into the home to celebrate with the living. It is traditional in preparation for the Day of the Dead to clean and decorate the grave sites as well.  

On the eve of All Saints Day, Mexican families meet for a candlelight vigil in the cemetery. Although there is prayer and reflection, there may be music, singing and a picnic at the grave, the family strewing marigold petals to guide the spirit of the loved one to the altar at home. 

On November second, the family will eat the food from the altar and proceed to the cemetery one last time, again strewing the marigold petals to lead the spirit back to the grave site before the veil between the two worlds closes and the spirits are stranded in the world of the living.


  1. Very interesting post! I love reading about this holiday. Thanks!

  2. Wonderful reading, Clarita! I am also planning on posting something special for this holiday! Loooove your necklace! :)

  3. Thank you for your comments, Heidi and Frog. I hope you both have a happy Dia de los Muertos. I know I will be celebrating with friends. Hope you will be, too!
    Hasta Luego,

  4. Even though we don't usually celebrate, I'd love to party with my passed family members. Happy Dia de los Muertos!

  5. RhiannonSTR,
    Thanks for the comment; I agree it would be fun to party with those who've left this earth. Why not set up an altar in you house this year? I now do this every year. It is really fun - and sort of a comfort for me regarding those I really miss.


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