Tomorrow is Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. It’s the Mexican national holiday that is held on either November 1st or November 2nd, depending on the town. It can also be held across both days — the first day devoted to lost children and infants, and the second for adults.
I just love this celebration in part for the symbols, but also because it remembers and pays homage to those who’ve passed away.
According to Wikipedia, scholars have traced the festival back to a pagan observance dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl or the Lady of the Dead. In fact the natives believed that death was a continuation of life and it was embraced. They also felt that life was simply a dream and that only when one died, were they truly awake.
Today, Día de los Muertos, celebrated primarily throughout Mexico (although many areas in the South West hold their own festivals) focuses on the gathering of family and friends in cemeteries or in homes to pray and remember friends and family members who have died. In some towns (each celebration can vary from town to town) festivals are held during the day, with private gatherings held at grave sites at night.
During Día de los Muertos, altars consisting of photos of the deceased and their favorite foods and beverages are created in tribute to lost love ones. These items are accompanied by ornately decorated sugar or chocolate skulls or skeletons called Calaveras, Mexican marigolds, and pan de muerto (bread of the dead) which is an egg bread using coffin, skeleton or bone shapes; toys are also left for the children.
The altars and items are left to encourage visits by the departed’s souls and to allow the souls to hear prayers, anecdotes and fond memories. It’s believed that the souls will eat the spirit of the food and beverages presented and those celebrating will consume the physical ones. In some instances, families also lay out blankets and pillows to allow the souls to rest before their long journey back to the after world.
In addition to loving the idea of appreciating the life of those who have died, I am especially fond of the symbols and items used on the altars. I love the artistic kitschy look of the sugar skulls, skeletons and las catrinas. They are the opposite of what one would think of when they picture skulls, and seem to capture a playful and happy moment — perhaps one we’re thinking of when we’re celebrating our friends’ and family members’ past lives.