Let’s get one thing out of the way: Día de los Muertos is not “Mexican Halloween.” With that addressed, let’s get into what this cherished Latin holiday really is about.
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Latin two-day celebration of one’s ancestors that begins at midnight on November 1st and continues through November 2nd. During this time, those who have passed on to the afterlife are said to return to the land of the living and celebrate with their remaining relations.
And it is a celebration. The holiday originated several thousands of years ago with the indigenous people of Latin America. They believed that mourning the dead was a disrespectful act, since death was just one part of life. The dead weren’t really gone; they were still part of the living memory of the community, and to act as if they no longer existed was frankly rude. So on Día de los Muertos, there are no tears for the dead, unless they are ones of happiness at being reunited with them once more.
Día de los Muertos can be thought of as having three parts: Día de los Angelitos, Día de los Difuntos, and the finale, Día de los Muertos.
The first part begins on November 1st and it is known as the Day of the Little Angels; it celebrates the reuniting of children’s souls with their parents and other family members. The children arrive first to the celebration, because they have more energy and are faster than the adult relations.
Next, the adults arrive on Día de los Difuntos on November 2nd. This is not a full day, as the third part of Día de los Muertos begins at noon. The final part brings everyone together, adults and children alike, to celebrate family.
In preparation for the arrival of their family members’ souls, people will prepare ofrendas, or offerings, to honor their relations. They place favorite foods, drinks, photos, flowers, and sometimes clothing on these altars with the intention to make their family members’ short stay as comfortable as possible.
Throughout the festivities, there will be music and the scent of Flor de Muerto (Mexican marigolds), as these flowers are thought to guide the souls back home to their ofrendas. People create calaveras, or skulls, out of clay and sugar and place them on the ofrendas or eat them throughout the two days. You’ve probably seen people painting their faces to look like calaveras as well; this is just one more way of celebrating ancestors and acknowledging that death is a part of life.
Día de los Muertos is far from the macabre holiday that it is sometimes painted as. Instead, it is a joyous occasion and celebration of generations of family members being reunited again.
Is there are certain holiday you would like to know more about? Or better yet, is there a culture you would like to learn about and visit in person? I’d love for you to reach out with your ideas so we can start planning how to get you there!
Author: Debra Harris
As founder of Life’s Journey Travel, I’m deeply passionate about creating custom travel experiences that allow my clients to truly savor the journey.