Dia de Los Muertos
It's that time of year again for ghosts, ghouls, candy, jack o' lanterns and spooky costumes. Houses are decorated to resemble haunted houses and costume stores are at their highest selling peak of the year. Yes, this can only mean one thing: Halloween! But while everyone gets ready to trick-or-treat, many people of Mexican decent get ready for Day of the Dead or "Dia de Los Muertos."
Every year on Nov. 2, just two days after Halloween, people both in Mexico and the United States celebrate "El Dia de Los Muertos." This traditional holiday goes back to the time of the Aztecs. The Day of the Dead is a mixture of both Aztec and Christian customs. Aztecs did not fear death, they believed that the kind of life you lived on earth would determine the kind of life you lived in the after-life. For example, they believed that children and warriors became hummingbirds and butterflies in the next life. As time proceeded, these Aztec beliefs led to the celebration of "El Dia de Los Muertos," where the souls of the dead came back for a day to see if they had not been forgotten. But why is the usually interpreted dark holiday celebrated on Nov. 2? This date is celebrated because it is around the same time as the Aztec's celebration of children who had died; this lead to what is now celebrated as "El Dia de Los Muertos."
Preparations for the spooky holiday start off as early as the week of Halloween. Each year, family members may choose to celebrate a different person, or simply celebrate the same person each year. The family creates an altar dedicated to a loved one who has passed. This altar, called an "Ofrenda," or offering, is decorated with things such as photographs, favorite articles of clothing belonging to the deceased, and other mementos that are then placed on their gravestone. To honor the person, their favorite foods are placed on the altar as well as candles and incense, which is said to "guide the spirit home." If you're afraid of the afterlife or anything to do with "ghosts," then "El Dia de Los Muertos" might not be for you. But if you're into honoring the dead and getting to do stuff like "guiding spirits home," something you don't normally do on Halloween, then this day is perfect for you!
The celebration starts on Nov. 1, where people go to the gravesites, clean the gravestones of their loved ones, and then go shopping for things they might need to decorate the gravestone. "Pan de muerto," bread made in a certain shape and sugar skeleton skulls are then placed on the gravestone to both decorate and get into the spirit. Marigolds, or flowers of the dead, are used to decorate the gravestones as well. Marigolds are said to help spirits find their ways back to their graves.
The Day of the Dead officially starts on November 2. Masses are held in honor of the deceased, people have picnics late at night next to the gravestone of their loved ones, and music is played the whole night. It is a time where people get to have conversations with their dead relatives. Halloween might be about ghosts and goblins, but no holiday compares to "El Dia de Los Muertos." Some might get the chills just thinking about talking to the dead while to others, it is a holiday in which loved ones can be remembered and celebrated.
The night of "El Dia de Los Muertos," in Mexico usually ends with fireworks and music. But why are those Mexicans so happy to have dead relatives you may ask? In Mexican tradition, the day of the dead provides the opportunity to celebrate someone's life and to celebrate death as a cycle of life.