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Day Of The Dead Is Full Of Longstanding Traditions Meant To Celebrate Ancestors

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Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in English, is a long-standing custom in Mexico with roots dating back thousands of years.

You’ve undoubtedly seen the signs that are typically connected to the festival in the US: marigold flowers, Calaveras (skulls), and papel picado, bright paper with cutouts. The first scene of “Spectre” and the film “Coco” both make significant references to the holiday.

Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life after death and a day set aside to pay respect to the deceased. Day of the Dead is more about honoring loved ones who have passed away than it is about warding off evil spirits, unlike Halloween, which was originally observed on this day.

The Day of the Dead starts every year on November 1st and ends on November 2nd. It is thought that the deceased’s spirits go back to their homes on those days to spend time with their loved ones.

While most people connect the Day of the Dead with Mexico, other nations—even those outside of Latin America—also observe the occasion in different ways. The first two days of November are also dedicated to celebrating the holiday known as Undas in the Philippines. Filipinos visit the graves of their loved ones and make altars for the deceased, just like Mexicans do.

The day is known as Fèt Gede, or the festival of the dead, in Haiti. Parades are held all around the nation, and people dress in purple, black, and white.

The customs of Native Americans, particularly the Aztecs, are the source of the Day of the Dead. Miccaihuitl was a time of honoring the dead that was part of an Aztec ceremony.

However, Catholicism, which was brought to the Americas by the Spanish, had its own holidays: All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2), which also honored the deceased. Día de los Muertos is the result of the Spanish combining Indigenous customs with their own festivals.

Many pay respects to departed family members and loved ones by going to their graves on the Day of the Dead. However, people either clean the graves and headstones or adorn them with flowers rather than necessarily going to grieve. Some will play music while others will pray.

The setting, complete with food, drink, and music, is almost party-like. People get together to tell each other stories about their departed loved ones, which preserves their memory.

There are parades and festivals on this day in several Mexican cities. Many people may dress up and paint their faces to resemble bare skulls. In particular, women will dress up as La Catrina, the tall female skeleton who is frequently shown donning an elaborate gown and a magnificent headdress that falls over her head.

While figures such as La Catrina have come to represent Día de los Muertos, the iconography comes from the 1910 sketches of Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, who was making fun of the country’s upper classes.

The altars, or ofrendas, are among the most revered elements of Day of the Dead celebrations. To memorialize the departed, these altars are erected in residences, educational institutions, and other public spaces.

A sizable picture of the departed loved one will be placed atop the altar by family members, accompanied with vibrant papel picado, or “perforated paper.” Since the altars are supposed to depict the four elements, the colored tissue papers stand in for air. Throughout the altars, marigold petals are also present. Their vivid hue and strong aroma are supposed to direct the spirits back home.

On the ofrendas, candles are also frequently seen serving as a symbol of the deceased and lighting the way. Pan de muerto is a classic Mexican pan dulce with Aztec roots. Sugar skulls, another popular decoration for ofrendas, are supposed to suggest the ever-presence of death.

To purify the visiting souls, salt, frequently arranged in the shape of a cross, is spread out on or around the ofrenda. Families also set out a jug of water, and occasionally tequila, on the altars so that travelers’ souls might refresh themselves after their voyage.

However, personal altars are also possible. Some families will bring mementos from the deceased’s life, such as a favorite garment or book, or their favorite cuisine. All of it honors the deceased in their return and acts as a means of remembering them.

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