Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Día de Los Muertos is a holiday celebrated from October 31st through November 2nd every year. This holiday originated from the Aztec celebration of the goddess of death and the underworld named Mictecacihuatl. She was celebrated throughout the entire ninth month of the Aztec calendar, a 20-day month that corresponded roughly to late July and early August.* As a result of the Spanish invasion, the month long celebration has been reserved to three days in the Catholic calendar. Día de los Muertos has extended throughout modern day Mexico and Central America. The Mexican government declared Día de Muertos as a national holiday in the 1960s.
Each day serves a different purpose for celebration. October 31st is All Hallows Eve, November 1st is Día de los Angelitos or Día de los Inocentes or All Saints Day, and November 2nd is Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos or All Souls Day. Families go to the cemetery and decorate the graves of their loved ones with flowers (specifically cempasuchil), pictures, and favorite objects of the deceased. Papel picado (brightly colored tissue paper depicting memento mori imagery), calaveras, and sugar skulls are placed around the altars as well. They also place food such as tamales, pan de muerto and beverages such as atole, agua de jamaica, and champurrado to honor and celebrate the deceased.
During this time, families are brought together to honor their relatives that have passed away. These days are viewed as a celebration of life rather than a mourning of loss because families are able to spend time with their loved ones.** “Día de los muertos is meant to make us feel connected to the relatives that have passed on. Instead of mourning their death, we celebrate their lives,” says Fatima Valerio. During this time, family members feel most close to their loved ones. “[Día de los muertos is] a day where it feels like I’m talking to him again,” says Marlene Santos on talking to her grandfather.
"Instead of mourning their death, we celebrate their lives."
A common misconception with Día de los Muertos is that all Latinx people celebrate this event, however, that is not the case. Some countries that do celebrate Day of the Dead or a similar celebration include Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru. So on these sacred days, please be mindful and respectful of others’ traditions and cultures.
*Farah, Kirby. “Day of the Dead: From Aztec Goddess Worship to Modern Mexican Celebration.” The Conversation. Retrieved October, 2019, http://theconversation.com/day-of-the-dead-from-aztec-goddess-worship-to-modern-mexican-celebration-124962.
**Society, National Geographic (October 17, 2012). "Dia de los Muertos". National Geographic Society. Retrieved October, 2019.