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Day of the Dead’s Jubilant History and How to Celebrate

By: Geremy Garcia

Day of the Dead, a day when friends and family gather to remember, honor, and reunite with the spirits of their loved ones who have passed, takes place on November 1 and 2 each year.

The holiday originated from the Aztecs, an indigenous group that honored the dead. Contrary to popular belief, Day of the Dead is not meant to be a sad and mournful day; rather, it is a jovial day. What else do people do on Day of the Dead, you might ask? Well, there is plenty!

There are parades and a lot of dancing in urban areas. People dress up as skeletons, and there is singing, drawing, playing, and more on this fascinating day. You can eat food like calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls) and pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

Yet, the best part is the making of the altar. The altar typically consists of three levels. The lower level represents Earth, the middle level represents the afterlife, and the higher level represents Heaven. To remember what the person who passed away looked like, a retrato (portrait) of them is placed in the middle. Cempasúchil (marigolds) are placed all around the altar, as their bright colors of orange and yellow bring life to it. The petals of marigolds are laid out in front of the altar to illuminate the path the spirit must take to return home. The veladoras (candles) are also used to guide the spirit back home. The petate (bedroll) is used so that the dead can rest at the altar. This is usually put in the center or to the side. Papel picado (paper mâché cuttings) are hung up around the altar to let the family know when their deceased loved ones have returned home with the gust of the wind. Food (typically tamales and mole) is left out in front of the altar as an offering for the dead to eat. Toys and items relating to the deceased can be left as well. It is one big happy family reunion.

Day of the Dead is typically celebrated in Mexico, but nothing can stop you from celebrating it. What are you waiting for? Have fun reuniting with your loved ones and celebrating them.

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