El Dia de los Muertos
Every November 1 and 2, Mexicans celebrate El Día de los Muertos. This holiday, which translates to Day of the Dead, honors those who are deceased and have moved on to the afterlife. You might think this sounds like a sad holiday, but really, Mexicans celebrate the return of the souls of people they loved.
About El Dia de los Muertos
Día de los Muertos is a unique celebration because it is a combination of indigenous (native) celebrations and Catholic traditions. The Aztecs were an ancient civilization of Mexico. When Catholics came to Mexico, the Aztec celebration of the dead was combined with the Christian holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. (These holidays come right after the Feast of All Hallows on the eve of October 31 –- which we know today as Halloween!) The Aztec people began to observe All Saints Day and All Souls Day too, but made the celebrations their own by adding distinct traditions and symbols.
On All Saints Day, November 1, people dress up in scary costumes and march through their town with a coffin. As they walk by, people throw things into the coffin such as fruit and candy. Also, the families create ofrendas, or altars, in memory of those who have passed on. Some things people put on an altar are:
- Flowers, especially marigolds, or cempasuchiles
- Candles, to lead the spirits home
- Favorite foods of the loved one
- Pan de los Muertos, a special bread that is sweet
- Calacas, miniature skeletons that perform everyday actions
- Papel Picado, tissue paper with intricate designs cut out of it
- Incense, sticks that smell sweet when they burn
On All Souls Day, November 2, families go to the cemeteries. You might think of a cemetery as a scary place that is dark and solemn, but the cemeteries in Mexico are bright, and the tombs are pastel colors such as blue, pink, yellow and orange. Families bring rakes and shovels to clean the graves and flowers and candles for decorations. This might spook you out, but for those celebrating Día de los Muertos, spending the night in the graveyard is a way to honor and celebrate those they loved. Some people bring music to listen to or instruments to play.
The ancient Aztecs believed spirits of dead ones would come back as monarch butterflies and hummingbirds. Every year around this holiday, monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico and are greeted as spirits.
How to Celebrate
How you can celebrate:
- Some families in the U.S. celebrate Día de los Muertos, but there are ways to participate even if your family doesn't celebrate.
- One way is to make sugar skulls and bring them to school to give to your class.
- Another thing you could bake is Pan de los Muertos, and decorate it with sugar sprinkles and "crossbones."
- Make an altar. If someone you knew passed on, maybe a grandparent or friend, you could make an altar to honor them.
- Make papel picado. All you need are scissors and a couple pieces of tissue paper. Fold the tissue paper a couple if times and cut a design. Unfold it and put it on top of another color of tissue paper. Staple, tape, or glue them together and hang it up.
Author: Julia and Katie Ransohoff, high school student writer