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How to celebrate Dia de los Muertos

Written by Laurent Escobar | 12th October 2015 |

Category: Places

Mexico zocalo dia de muertos celebration 1

Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated on November 1 and 2, honouring the children (on the first day) and the adults (on the second day) who have died. Although marked throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico, where it is a National symbol and considered part of our intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

The tradition originates in Mesoamerica (a region extending from central Mexico to northern Costa Rica) some 3,000 years ago, when tribes started to celebrate their ancestors' life. Later, various civilisations dedicated a one-month festival to the children and adults who have died. Then, when the Spanish arrived (during the 16th century) and converted these civilisations to Christianity, they decided to keep the celebration and associated it with their All Saint's Day, creating a form of hybrid festival: Dia de los Muertos.Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos today celebrates the lives of the deceased ones with their favourite food, drink, music, and any other activities that the dead enjoyed in life.

On this holiday, families decorate the graves with colorful flowers, mainly 'Cempasúchitl' (Mexican marigold) which are believed to attract and guide the souls of the dead when they awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones. During this event, cemeteries are full of people eating, laughing and singing all night long, while 'Mariachis' and 'Bandas' walk around to get families to pay them for a song or two, many other bring their own musical instrument or stereo to party with the dead ones.

Although, most families prefer building the altar to the dead in their own homes, where they can invite the 'muertos' to a more intimate gathering. So if you would like to celebrate All Saints' Day the Mexican way this year, here we've got the checklist for you:

  • Mexican marigold. It represents the sunlight, drawing paths with its petals will guide the dead' souls to you.

  • Portraits or photos of your dead loved ones.

  • Calaveras de dulce. A human skull made of sugar (make your own here).

  • Pan de muertos. This 'bread of dead' represents the Eucharist (cook your own with this recipe).

  • Four candles. They represent the cardinal cross points and serve as a compass for the deceased ones (purple candles signify mourning).

  • Other religious elements (cross, rosary, religious images').

  • Papel picado. 'Perforated paper' is a Mexican craft made out of paper cut into elaborate designs of skeletons and skulls, representing the joy of Day of the Dead (make your own Papel picado here).

  • Rod of Mexican hawthorn. Used to open the path to the soul visiting you, do not remove the thorns.

  • Copal. A prehispanic incense that cleans and helps to purify a place/room.

  • Full glass of water. Water is very important, it reflects the purity of the soul, and helps alleviate the soul's thirst after its long journey from the world of the dead.

  • Dead's favourite food. Often these are traditional foods such as 'Mole', 'Pozole', 'Tamales' but equally they could be bags of crisps and cans of soda.

  • Dead's vices. These can include cigarettes/cigars or alcoholic drinks like 'Tequila', 'Pulque', beer and 'Mezcal'.

  • Dead's favourite items. Can be a camera, a notebook, toys, knitting needles.

Your altar can have one, two, three and up to seven levels, each one has its own meaning. A two-level altar means the division of heaven and earth whereas three levels symbolises heaven, earth and the underworld. The seven-level altar represents all stages that the soul must pass through to achieve spiritual rest. So choose the right one for your dead loved one!

Hopefully you'll find what you need in your local shops. Please, let us know how you have done and send us your photographs on our Facebook Page!

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