Celebrated on October 31st, November 1st and 2nd, the Day of the Dead(Dia de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated throughout Mexico. October 31st is called “All Hallows Eve”, November 1st is called “All Saints’ Day” and November 2nd is called “All Souls’ Day”. This holiday has been celebrated for thousands of years. Until the 20th century the northern part of Mexico did not celebrate the Day of the Dead. There were conflicts with the Catholic traditions because Catholics celebrate “All Saint’s Day”, but the church rejected celebrating the Day of the Dead due to syncretizing pagan. It wasn’t until the early 21st century when Mexico made it a national holiday. Prepared for throughout the year, families will gather decorations and items that the deceased adored.
On November 1st families honor dead children(Angelitos), November 2nd is when families honor adults(Difuntos). The belief is that the spirits will be supported through their spiritual journey back to visit the living. The yellow colours on the skull and face paints represents the sun and unity because, under the sun, we are all the same. White represents the spirit and purity. Red represents the blood of life. Purple represents the mourning that is felt by loved ones. Pink represents happiness.
How to celebrate it
Dedicated to honoring the deceased, Hispanics will gather with family to pray for the deceased. Traditions connected with the Day of the Dead include: creating altars, decorating graves with calaveras, aztec marigolds and the deceased favorite foods and beverages. In Mexico you will see lots of decorations, festivals and parades to pray for their deceased loved ones. Some decorations include: Flowers of the dead(marigolds), the bread of the dead(muertos), sugar skulls, cardboard skeletons, fruits, tissue paper flowers and other decorations to please their dead love ones. For the children: toys, bottles, candies, and jewelry is left on their graves to guide them back to visit their loved ones.
Feasting during the three days is essential. Tamales are the most commonly made food for the families. Pan de meurto(a sweet roll shaped bun topped with sugar) and calaveras(sugar skulls) are the most popular snacks to eat during these three days. Alcoholic beverages are also significant items during the feast because the families will celebrate the deceased by honoring them with a toast.
The Disney movie Coco demonstrates how important the Day of the Dead is and how the traditions are taken very seriously in Mexico.
If you decide you want to celebrate this day, here are a few tips to make sure you’re not offending the importance of the day:
Don’t paint your face like a sugar skull for Halloween.
Hispanics who celebrate the Day of the Dead will paint their faces for the reasons and representations I mentioned above. The sugar skull is not a costume, this is a very serious and important cultural celebration. People who decorate their face like a sugar skull for Halloween are viewed as making fun of the beliefs and the celebration. Although Halloween and the Day of the Dead are close together, they are no where close to being the same thing. Respect the Mexican traditions! Also, the face painting is never a DIY thing. At festivals and parades Hispanics will paint it on for others. Never show up to a festival with your face already painted.
Do your research.
The best advice I can give is to make sure you understand the importance of the day. Not only should you understand the history, but understand the celebrations and beliefs as well. By educating yourself on the holiday you are honoring it. Remember that this day is extremely important to some people. If you think something could possibly be disrespectful, you’re probably better off not doing it. Be respectful to the culture and the beliefs.