Culture

What Is Día de Los Muertos?

Also known as the Day of the Dead.

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Known for its colorfully painted skulls, abundant offerings and vibrant parades, the Mexican holiday of Día de Los Muertos is here at last.

While the holiday has been around for thousands and thousands of years, many of us still don’t fully understand the meaning of the sacred celebration as it’s often overshadowed by Halloween. Mainstream media like the 2017 Disney film Coco, have helped popularize the festival, as I personally learned about the special day from an informative Lizzie McGuire special as Miranda showcased her family’s heritage. The vibrancy and festivity of the day can be draw for curious travelers and tourists, yet it’s crucial to understand the actual history behind the spiritually-charged holiday.

When Is Día de Los Muertos?

Also known as the Day of the Dead, the ghoulish yet fun holiday starts on the first and second day of November. Technically, the holiday marks its official start on October 28, but the multiple-day celebration assigns specific days to acknowledge specific deaths — those who died without being baptized or perished in accidents received their own moment of reverence and respect. November 1 is All Saints Day and is designated for remembering deceased children. Typically, Día de Los Muertos is commemorated on November 2.

What Does the Day of the Dead Mean?

Apparent from its name, the ancient holiday celebrates the lives of loved ones as they’ve passed on. Blending Catholic religious tradition with Mexican mysticism, the Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that dates back to the 11th century.

Aztec culture views death as a means of transformation or passage instead of a final event. In ancient times, two autumunal festivals would honor the dead, but after Spanish colonization in the 16th century took hold, Catholicism influenced Día de Los Muertos, making its appearance onto the religion’s calendar and now shares its day with All Souls’ Day.

How Is the Day of the Dead Celebrated?

To celebrate the special two-day event, homes are filled with altars, adorned with the dead’s possessions and pictures, alongside their favorite food. Oranges, pomegranates, cloves, candles and incense are commonly offered, as well as chocolate, alcohol and flowers to entice and honor familial spirits. Water will also be left out as it symbolizes life, while pan de muerto — the festival’s signature dessert — is a tasty treat for the spirits. The rounded loaf mirrors a skull and cross bones and is often topped with sugar.

Looking at death as a transition rather than a definite end, the Day of the Dead celebrates the duality of life. “What is a fact is that the Mexican’s obsession with mixing death with a celebration of rituals and daily life is something very much ours and that is what draws attention in other parts of the world,” Enrique Rodríguez Balam, a researcher at UNAM’S Peninsular Center for Humanities and Social Sciences shares with NBC News.

The holiday notably occurs during the fall season, which is usually a time of harvest and festivities. Rather than dwelling on the end of one chapter, Día de Los Muertos urges us to view death as the beginning of another path, channeling our grief and fear of the unknown into a celebration.

For a full explanation of Día de Los Muertos and how to celebrate, head to The New York Times to read more.

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