Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead (or Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated from midnight on 31st October to 2nd November.
Families come together to celebrate and remember ancestors and loved ones who have passed away, and although it is a time for people to reflect and remember, it's also an explosion of colour and celebration. Day of the Dead isn't about being sad, or scared, even though some of the costumes look scary to people who aren't used to them and don't understand. There are parades and parties, and people sing and dance. Even young children are involved.
November 1st is a national holiday and all banks are closed. People build private altars with the favourite food and drinks of deceased loved ones to try to encourage the souls to visit.
People carrying candles as part of the Day of the Dead festivities
History of Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead can be traced back thousands of years to the indigenous cultures in Mexico, who had rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors. The festival originally occurred in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar and lasted for the entire month. People believed the dead were still members of the community, who were kept alive in memory and spirit and that they temporarily returned to Earth during the festival. With the arrival of the Spanish, the celebrations were moved to 1st and 2nd November to coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls' Day.
Halloween and Day of the Dead are celebrated around the same time of year and share some roots and similarities, but they are totally different holidays.
One of the most iconic images during the Day of the Dead festivities is the sugar skull or Calavera. Traditionally Calaveras are made of sugar and decorated with icing.
In recent years sugar-skull makeup and masks have become popular costumes for Halloween outside of Mexico, and some Mexicans feel that if people are going to dress up in a Día de los Muertos costume or makeup they should learn a little about the meaning of the Day of the Dead first. We've got some fun Day of the Dead calavera colouring pages here at Activity Village which you could colour and wear as masks for your own celebrations, or hang up on display.
Some Interesting Facts...
- Marigolds are widely used to decorate altars during the festival. It is believed that these flowers use their bright colour and scent to guide the spirits to their respective altars during Día de los Muertos, and they also represent the fragility of life.
- The Day of the Dead was recognised by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2008, because of its importance to Mexican culture and the unique aspects of the celebration which have been passed down through many generations.
- It is believed that monarch butterflies arriving during the festivities are returning ancestors. Every year during the week of Nov. 2, parts of Mexico are swarmed with monarch butterflies that travel 3,000 miles all the way from Canada. The belief that the spirits of the dead could return as butterflies can be traced back to the Aztecs.