If you’re a Halloween lover like me, October 31st is a bittersweet date–it’s the day you’ve been anticipating and also the end of your favorite holiday! Enter “Dia de los Muertos,” the Mexican holiday that honors the dead and runs on November 1st and 2nd. The holiday originates from an Aztec festival that celebrates one of the culture’s goddesses and later became incorporated with the Catholic holidays All Saint’s Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). During the two days that make up Dia de los Muertos, the first day (November 1st) is dedicated to the souls of children and the second day (November 2nd) is dedicated to the souls of adults.
During Dia de los Muertos the deceased make a journey back to visit their friends and relatives who are living. The friends and relatives make altars for the dead and visit grave sites to lure the dead back for this special occasion. Altars can be simple or complex, but contain pictures and memorabilia of the deceased, candles to light the way for the dead and offerings of food. Graves and altars are often decorated with marigolds which is the traditional flower to honor the dead. Toys are left for dead children and tequilla, cigarettes, and favorite foods for the adults.
Sugar skulls are also commonly offered to the deceased. The skulls are made of a sugar mixture that has been pressed into molds and then dried. The dried sugar skulls are decorated with icing and sometimes non-edible items such as colored foil, feathers or sequins. The sugar skull in emblematic of the Dia de los Muertos holiday. Another important food offering is Pan de Muerto, with is a sweet bread fashioned to resemble bones that is decorated with sugar.
Living in the Bay area this holiday gets a fair amount of attention with the San Francisco’s annual Day of the Dead celebration in Garfield Square. But it seems that this holiday is becoming more mainstream in American culture as I was walking through a Macy’s Holiday store and saw several Dia de los Muertos Christmas ornaments. What allures me the most to this holiday (and maybe everyone else too) it the brightly colored artwork that is emblematic of Dia de los Muertos. I also have a love for skulls, so brightly colored beautifully decorated skulls are going to capture my attention. It has not been until I researched the holiday for this article that I really understood what Dia de los Muertos was, I figured it was just the Mexican version of Halloween, only cooler.
Come to find out there is a compelling reason to celebrate the holiday in my own family (besides my need to postpone the end of Halloween). This is the only holiday I know of that celebrates and talks about death. This is even more valuable for Western families like our own. I am speaking purely from personal perspective here, but it seems to me that Americans are not the best at discussing (or even acknowledging) death. My parents never had a “death” conversation with me when I was young (it almost seems more taboo than the “sex” or “drugs” conversations). I remember going to my great-grandmother’s funeral and everyone being sad and starting to understand on my own about death. But there was never a given special day to remember her by. Then when my grandfather died when I was in graduate school I felt like I had to just get over it quickly and forget about him. I usually think of him on his birthday but there is no real connection.
I would like to adopt this holiday in my own family to bring the much-needed conversation about death out in the open for Kysen. I also want to have a day where I can remember the dead in my own family so I might feel more connected to them. What do you think of this holiday? Do you celebrate it?