Día de los Muertos, which is also known as the Day of the Dead which held on the 1st and 2nd of November every year, is one of the traditions which has been celebrated for a number of centuries. This celebration traces back to the indigenous tribes in Mexico.
As Latino populations continue to grow in the US, in states such as Dallas and elsewhere, it has become a lot more mainstream and is often lumped with the Halloween festivities. Yet unlike Halloween which is associated with candy and costumes, the beliefs around Día de los Muertos is when deceased loved ones are offered with an opportunity to reunite with their beloved families.
Here are important facts about Día de los Muertos along with a few misconceptions about this ancient tradition.
1. It Is Not A Mexican Halloween
Yes, it may be true that many Mexicans may celebrate Halloween. Yet on November the 1st, festivities which take place do not make up extensions of “trick or treating” which is held on the previous day.
2. Día de los Muertos Is Not Celebrated All Over Mexico
Isabel Montemayor, a research associate and assistant professor for the Center of Mexican American Studies from the University of Texas at Arlington, stated that this celebration is not so common in some areas in northern Mexico when compared to the southern states in Mexico like Veracruz, Oaxaca and Michoacán.
3. It Is Not Regarded As A Depressing And Sombre Holiday
Many people are under the false impression that this tradition is sad and somber, due to the involvement of death. It is actually completely opposite. It actually involves celebrations of life, which is why it is common to hear lively music and see bright colors. Yes, there is a degree of solemnity about this event when people remember a loved one that has died, yet it is also celebrates the people who have passed on.
4. There Is Importance Behind The Sugar Skull Face Painting
The face painting is really beautiful and there is a reason as to why people that celebrate this tradition paint skulls on their faces on Día de los Muertos. An expert and anthropologist, Amparo de Jesús Rincón Pérez from the National Museum of Popular Culture of Mexico City states that calavera (sugar skull) face painting is believed to be a way for people to keep death at bay. Wearing the face paint signifies “Don’t look at me, I am already dead”.
5. The Tradition Actually Involves Multiple Days
It may be known as the Day of the Dead, yet the celebrations are held on November the 1st and November the 2nd. On the 1st day which is known as All Saints Day is held in order to honor little angels or little angelitos which are the children which have passed away. Those that have never sinned, or saints are also honored on this day. On the 2nd of November, All Souls Day is celebrated which invites any adult who died.
6. There Is A Special Flower Used For This Holiday
Cempoalxochitl which also goes by the name of the Flor de los Muertos which means the flower for the dead is similar to carnations but comes in a bright orange color. These flowers are utilized to guide the dead back to their homes. In Pueblos where their cemetery is only a short distance to most of the homes, the petals are removed and then used to create trails from the tomb of the loved one back to the home that they once lived in.
7. It is Not A Shrine, But Rather Symbolic Altars
Shrines are typically used as a sacred structure for specific deities. The altars which are used for Día de los Muertos are centerpieces for this holiday. The altars usually vary in their levels, yet they are usually 3-tiered which symbolize earth, purgatory and heaven.
8. The Bread Is Round
Pan de Muerto, which stands for “bread of the dead” might sound a bit off-putting, yet its is a very common treat which is made in Hispanic bakeries or panaderias for this holiday. These pastries are round which is a symbol for the “circle of life”.
9. What Is la Ofrenda?
You may notice prepared meals, bottles of tequila and even cigarettes on a few of the altars. These items are what form a portion of la Ofrenda, which means gifts or offerings to the dead. It is typically the items that the person who has passed on enjoyed or loved the most. During this holiday, there is a belief that even the dead are still able to savor and enjoy the things they loved again.
10. It Is Important To Know That It Is Still An Indigenous Tradition
This holiday also coincides with the last part of an agricultural-cycle. The indigenous pueblos in Mexico celebrated this era as way to be thankful for the harvest of the year along with honoring their ancestors. To this day, people all over Mexico spend about 2 weeks of their wages to honor the dead as the presence of a loved one or more is believed to bring about good luck as well as unify families.
11. Why Marigolds For Día de los Muertos?
There is a strong belief that spirits of deceased loved ones will visit during this celebration. Marigolds are believed to guide spirits to their dedicated altars, with use of their pungent scent and vibrant colors.
12. Where Do The Marigolds Grow?
Marigolds are native to both South and North America and grow very well in Mexico. They also grow vey well in Southern California, which can be seen in the big Marigold sections in many of the plant nurseries.
13. The Día de los At-Home Activities
For those that want to honor loved ones during this event, they create traditional altars, or they position marigolds in their yards or in vases all over the home. Many people also make Marigolds out of pipe cleaners and tissue or bake “bread of the dead”, as one of their common offerings.