Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. What a colorful, fun, and meaningful time of year! It is the Mexican holiday where our family and friends that have passed on are remembered and celebrated. Observed on November 1st till the 2nd, this festival has been synchronized with the Catholic holidays All Saints Day and All Souls Day. It is a tradition with ancient roots that has gained popularity and recognition fairly recently.
What is is?
It is believed that Día de los Muertos started with an Aztec festival that honored their dead. When the Spanish conquistadors came to Mesoamerica they brought All Saints Day and All Souls Day with them. Over time these two traditions synchronized to form Día de los Muertos.
Sadness and grief are insulting to the dead. This is why Día de los Muertos is traditionally a happy festival, filled with food, music, and revelry. This is a time to celebrate with loved ones, not mourn. This attitude also helps us accept death as a necessary part of life.
Specific traditions involved in the celebration vary town to town, and village to village. Everywhere it is celebrated, Día de los Muertos provides an opportunity to celebrate those we have loved and lost. It is time set aside to focus on those who have been important in our lives.
Ofrendas, alters, are created to entice the spirits to commune with us. These altars are decorated with food, drink, pictures and other meaningful memorabilia. Marigolds are also traditionally used to decorate during Día de los Muertos. The thought is the bold color and scent will help attract the spirits and help guide them from the cemetery to the family home. Marigolds are powerful plants botanically and symbolically.
Other offerings are given as well. Often the adult departed appreciated a nice tequila or mezcal. For the underage spirits, toys, or candy are delightful offerings.
Significance of this time of year.
Día de los Muertos is a big deal. It is a festival cherished by those that celebrate it. Sometimes I wonder if it is a bigger deal than we really know. Ancient cultures around the world celebrate ancestors with offerings of food and drink at alters. In Haiti, Fet Gede is a national holiday celebrating the sacred dead. It is observed in early November. The Celts in the British Isles had Samhain October 31-November 1st. Samhain is what eventually evolved into our Halloween today. In Zimbabwe the Shona culture holds the entire month of November sacred. No business is to be conducted for the entire month! In late September Buddhists in Cambodia celebrate Pchum Ben, the festival of hungry ghosts. Gai Jatra is a Hindu festival that honors those that have died during the year. It falls in August or September.
So, you have Haitian Vodouists, the Aztecs in Mesoamerica, the Celts in the British Isles, the Shona in Africa, the Cambodian Buddhists, and Hindus in India. All of them regard this time of year as being sacred in regards to honoring ancestors and the dead. I’ve never been a believer of coincidence. These traditions clearly evolved out of different belief systems. Not only that they evolved out of different calendar systems, yet still all fall during this time of year. One has to wonder what it is about these specific days that resonate with us on such a deep level people around the world feel the call to honor the dead at this time.
It’s things like this that remind me of our common humanity and heritage. No matter how different we are on the surface we all came from and are vibrating and resonating with the same energy. At our innermost core we all have the same fears, needs, and desires. Especially no, in times like this, we could all use that reminder and hopefully find a little reassurance in it.