Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that is typically celebrated on November 2nd. The holiday is celebrated in conjunction with All Saint’s Day, the Catholic holiday that takes place on the same day. While the name of this day sounds a little bit scary, it is actually a celebration of the lives of friends and families who have passed away and entered a new world. Originally the Aztecs, Mayans, and several other indigenous tribes of Mexico celebrated this day. Natives believed that when someone died, their soul then entered a new dimension, and is then reborn. The day is actually one of the original holidays that inspired Halloween, since it is a celebration of the dead.
For the Day of the Dead celebrations, people dress up in costumes resembling skeleton-like characters, called calacas. Some family members may dress similar to the departed, and the costume serves as their representation of the deceased person’s spirit still living on. People gather up small treasures and candles to bring to the dead person’s grave, and everyone gathers together to decorate their headstones. The celebrations typically last for about two days, and there is usually a parade on the streets so everyone can celebrate together. Small skeleton dolls dressed in clothing called Catrinas are common icons of Day of the Dead celebrations.
Family members usually build an altar to place in their homes to serve as a shrine for the departed. The altar typically has a cross, pictures of the Virgin Mary, and small belongings that once belonged to the person who died. Even government and other public buildings often display an altar during the Day of the Dead holiday. Building an altar is fairly simple:
Gather up items that remind you of the person who has died. This can be jewelry, articles of clothing, and most importantly, find at least one photograph of them.
Cover a small table, dresser, or bench with a cloth or tissue paper. Traditionally, three colors are used: purple, pink, and white.
Include candles, lots of flowers, sugar skulls, and of course, a bar of soap and bowl so the dead can wash their hands as they pass through after a long trip.
Bottles of alcohol can also be included to offer up to the dead.
Foods that the deceased enjoyed can also be included on the altar.
The purpose of the Day of the Dead altar is to show love and dedication for those who have died. It is easy to do, and serves as an important tradition for the holiday. For more information on the Day of the Dead, check into these resources:
History of Day of the Dead – Background and history of the holiday and its origins
Sugar Skulls – Pictures and resources to buy candied skulls for the celebration
Dia de los Muertos – Resource page with more information on Day of the Dead
Crafts – Arts and crafts for kids of all ages to make for the Day of the Dead celebrations
While Day of the Dead is very similar to Halloween, it is a special traditional holiday for those living in the country of Mexico. The holiday is also recognized by Mexicans living within the United States who want to participate in their family’s celebration of friends and loved ones who have now passed.
Article written by Janice D. McDonald