Friday, November 2, 2018
Día de los Muertos
Just like witches, black cats and pumpkins are typical symbols of Halloween, sugar skulls, marigolds and monarch butterflies are associated with Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. However, as Halloween is celebrated October 31st, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 2nd.
Día de los Muertos originated in Mexico and Central America where native tribes, including Aztec, Maya and Toltec, had specific times when they honored their loved ones based on whether the deceased was an adult or a child. When the Spanish arrived, this ritual of memorializing the dead became two holidays: All Saints Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on the 2nd. Día de los Muertos is typically celebrated on the 1st as a day to remember children who have passed away, and the 2nd to honor adults.
These ancient tribes believed that death was part of the journey of life. Rather than death ending life, they believed that new life came from death. This cycle is often associated with the cyclical nature of agriculture, like crops grow from the ground where the last crop lies buried.
Día de los Muertos is an occasion to remember and celebrate the lives of departed loved ones. And as with many celebrations, Día de los Muertos is filled with music and dancing. The ofrenda, is the most recognized symbol. This temporary altar is a way for families to honor their loved ones and provide them what they love while on their journey.
Portraits of the deceased, along with items that belonged to them are placed on the altar. The cempasúchil, a variety of marigold flower native to Mexico, is often placed on ofrendas and around graves. Their vibrant color petals are used to make a path that leads the spirits from the cemetery to their families’ homes. Plus, the marigold’s distinct smell when paired with the right kind of candle, allows the departed to return for a brief short time to enjoy the pleasures of life once more.
Monarch butterflies play a role in it because they are believed to hold the spirits of the departed. This belief stems from the fact that the first monarchs arrive in Mexico for the winter on November 1st, which coincides with Día de los Muertos. Calaveritas de azucar, or sugar skulls, along with toys, are left on the altars for children who have passed. The skull is used not as gruesome symbol but rather as a whimsical reminder of the circle of life.