Whether you call is All Souls’ Day, Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos, today we celebrate and pray for those who have left this world before us. Always planned the day after All Saints’ Day, Día de los Muertos is most popularly celebrated in Mexico, where it attains the quality of a National Holiday.
Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to as many as 3,000 years when it was customary to keep skulls of loved ones on display to symbolize death and rebirth. Many communities all over the world have kept up this tradition of honoring the deceased with festivals and celebrations ever since.
Many visit cemeteries of loved ones to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages as well as photos and memorabilia. Families usually clean and decorate graves where their loved ones are buried and decorate them with ofrendas, which often include orange Mexican marigolds. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. Families also place ofrendas in homes with candies and other favorite foods of the deceased as a welcoming gesture. Some also leave out pillows and blankets so the deceased have a place to rest after their long journey. Small shrines or altars are also built in the home and contain symbolic elements such as crosses, candles and pictures of the Virgin Mary, deceased relatives and other persons and an ofrenda. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar, praying and telling stories about the deceased.
Probably the most recognizable symbol of the holiday is the skull. Many celebrants make masks out of chocolate and sugar, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet, egg bread which is shaped into objects such as skulls and rabbits.
Today, even if you’ve never heard of the holiday before, take some time to remember and honor your deceased loved ones. Send a prayer their way or have a dinner with friends and family to remember those lost. If you’re feeling really festive, make skull masks with your kids or decorate sugar skulls to commemorate the holiday!