The Day of the Dead — Día de los Muertos to Spanish speakers — is a Mexican holiday that brings families together to celebrate and remember their friends and family members who have died. But rather than make it a somber day, Day of the Dead is recognized with colorful decorations, favorite foods, and high spirits.
Origins of the Day of the Dead
This tradition dates all the way back to the Aztecs, actually. The Aztecs were a civilization who viewed death not as the end of life, but as a continuation of it. Their culture viewed life as a dream, and it was only in death that one truly became awake. Natives created rituals celebrating the death of their ancestors, using displays of skulls to symbolize death and rebirth. The rituals were observed during the ninth month of the Aztec Solar calendar, which would have been around the beginning of August, and lasted the entire month.
Modern Day Celebration
When the Spanish conquistadors encountered the natives and their rituals, they believed them to be mocking death and saw it as sacrilegious. As they attempted to convert the natives to Catholicism, the Spaniards hoped the ritual would fall by the wayside, but it never did. To make it more Christian, they decided to move the holiday to coincide with All Saints Day, which is when we celebrate it today.
First and foremost, this holiday is a time to remember the ones we have lost. Those who honor the holiday believe that the angelitos (spirits of dead children) come to visit their families on All Hallow's Eve, while the spirits of adults who have passed on visit the following evening on All Saints Day. It culminates in a celebration of all the lost souls, who join together on All Souls Day, which is recognized Nov. 2. Families will visit the graves of their loved ones and build beautiful altars made up of the departed's favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and other memorabilia. That's where they will gather to be with the spirits of their family and friends. It's common to see toys set out for the deceased children, while bottles of tequila are offered to the adult spirits. Altars are sometimes prepared in the home as well, where families will gather around to share stories of the dead.
The skull has remained a popular symbol for Day of the Dead. You'll often see people wearing skull masks throughout the holiday, and everyone always has their eye out for the popular sugar skulls. These hand-painted skulls made of sugar and chocolate can be given as gifts to the living and the dead, and is perhaps the most popular decoration found during the holiday.
When visiting the graves of their loved ones, many families lay marigolds at the tombstones. These yellow flowers are known as the flower of the dead, which is why they are featured so heavily during Day of the Dead. Participants will sometimes create elaborate arches and other displays to place on their loved ones' graves, while others will leave a trail of marigolds from their homes to the graveyards to guide the spirits.
Celebrating at Papa Lopez Mexican Cantina
Not sure where to go or what to do for this year's celebrations? Make plans to come see us here at Papa Lopez Cantina. We'll be open both during the Day of the Dead holiday and we'll be serving up plenty of delicious dishes to remind you of the beauty of Mexico. You can also order your favorite dishes to go to eliminate the hassle of cooking for a party at home.