October is here, and that means one of America’s favorite holidays, Halloween, is fast approaching! But there’s another, lesser-known holiday equally as deserving of celebration: Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Though it’s primarily celebrated in Mexico, many people of Mexican ancestry celebrate this holiday in the United States every year, from October 31 to November 2. This coincides with more Western observances of All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day.
But there are some other things you may not have known about the Day of the Dead! Here are some facts and trivia to fill you in on this fall holiday.
Day of the Dead: Facts and Trivia
- The Day of the Dead is regarded as a joyous occasion, not a sad one. It’s a time for the living to remember, and celebrate, the departed. Traditionally, families of the dead visit the resting places of the living and leave their favorite foods as an offering. This stems from an old belief that the spirits of the departed require food for their journey between this world and the next. These shrines are sometimes built in the homes of relatives, instead of at grave sites.
- These offerings are often planned well in advance, and the altars (or ofrendas) are decorates with orange marigolds, toys for children, trinkets, candied pumpkins, and other traditional offerings. Some relatives also leave pillows and blankets out for the deceased, to help them be more comfortable in their afterlife travels.
- Orange marigolds are used in decorating the ofrendas because the scent is believed to lead the spirits of the departed home again.
- The traditions of Día de los Muertos, come from a combination of the Catholic faith of the conquistadores and standing pre-Columbian rituals.
- One of the most widely recognized symbols of the Day of the Dead is the candy skull, or calavera. These are usually made of chocolate or sugar, and have the names of the recipients engraved on the forehead of the skull. These can be given as gifts to either the living or the dead.
- Another common food item seen during this holiday is pan de muerto, a sweet bread decorated or baked in the shapes of bones and skulls.
- The skeletons, or calacas, are also seen everywhere around the Day of the Dead — in artwork and in costumes. The calacas are often whimsical in nature, decorated in bright colors and meant to bring a sense of celebration to the holiday.
- November 1, or Dia de los Inocentes, is believed by some to be a day when the spirits of children return for a short time. The spirits of adults return on the next day, November 2.
Day of the Dead Celebrations Around the World
Though Día de los Muertos originated in Mexico, it’s observed in cities across the United States, especially those with a high population of Mexican-Americans. Cities such as Los Angeles, Austin and Albuquerque are all famous destinations for Day of the Dead celebrations, though they range as far north as New York and Chicago.
But the holiday is also celebrated in other North American and South American countries, and celebrations are often unique to every country, or even every city. In Guatemala, the day is marked by the flying of giant kites. In Bolivia, relatives sometimes keep the skulls of family members for the purpose of celebrating their lives on Dia de los ñatitas (“Day of the Skulls”). The skulls are decorated with flowers and garments, and given offerings so they can watch over the family and protect them during the year. Disneyland Resort even redecorates during the Halloween season, decking out its Frontierland section in Dia de los Muertos artwork.
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