One of the biggest and more diverse celebrations in Mexico is Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. On November 1st and 2nd, we celebrate the life of our loved ones who have died; and according to our culture, their souls will come back to be with us.
This is the reason why we built an altar dedicated to our loved ones where we put “la ofrenda” or “the offering” with all the food and some of the personal items they liked when they were alive.
November 1st is dedicated to the babies or “Angelitos” (little angels) so the altar has toys and their favorite foods. On November 2nd we celebrate the adults, the altar will be stocked with food, alcoholic drinks, and some personal items.
In every family the altars are different, but they always feature pictures of our loved ones, and bread of the dead which is a type of sweet bread known as “Pan de Muerto”. Mexicans believe that the dead are driven back to the living by the scent of the food, so this bread is baked to welcome our loved ones and feed them when their souls come back hungry.
For this same reason we use “flores de cempasúchil” or marigold flowers, to help guide the souls of the departed with vibrant colors and strong scents. The flower are arranged as an arch, which symbolizes the door to this world. We also provide water for our spirit guests, salt to purify their souls, as well as incense or “copal”.
Of course, we can’t forget the delicious food of the region like tamales, dark chocolate, atole which is a drink, fruit, and sugar skulks. All these are offered to the dead but eaten by us. Nothing goes to waste.
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in every state in Mexico, with few differences. In my hometown in San Luis Potosí (in the Huasteca zone) we go to the cemetery early in the morning, clean the tomb stones and spend time enjoying music and food, but in some towns like Oaxaca which is a state down south they spend the entire night there; it is like a big party since the entire families of the deceased go there.
Because we believe that people die three times, first when the heart stops, second when the person is buried, and third when we forget about them; we try to bring them back not only in our memories, but also with this big celebration full of food, color, and music.
In big cities like Mexico City they have big parades of Catrinas, which is one of the icons of this holiday. This elegant lady reminds us that it does not matter how rich or poor we are, we are all going to the same place.
In 2003 the Day of the Dead was proclaimed an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Mexico, November 1st and 2nd will be a great time in any city or small town.