The El Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead is a family holiday to honor loved ones. It is “a family-centered celebration rooted in the belief that, beginning on Oct. 31st and continuing through Nov. 2nd, the spirits of the dead visit the living. Families spend these days in communion with departed friends and relatives sharing food and music.” Oakland Museum of Art- Day of the Dead Exhibit.
Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to indigenous pagan cultures 2,500–3,000 years. Rituals celebrating the lives of ancestors passed, have long been observed by ancient civilizations of the region. The festival now known as the modern “Day of the Dead” originally fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar- about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead”- Mictecacihuatl, now loosely corresponding to the modern Catrina.
The original timing of El dia de Los Muertos coincided with the migratory return of the monarch butterflies who were believed to play a key role in carrying the souls of the deceased to families and loved ones. The Catholic church moved the holiday from August, to Nov. 1 & 2nd, to coincide with All Souls Day.
Source: Frenzy Art- Frida
The holiday has spread throughout the world and is celebrated in some form in many countries: in Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain, there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. (adapted from Wikipedia & other sources.)
Because souls are migrating on long journeys, food and drink are arranged on alters for those who have passed, to comfort and sustain them on their journeys ahead. Copal incense, marigolds, and favored breads, food, and drink are offered on alters during this time.
Here is a guide for what you can use to prepare for your alter. Click to enlarge pic.
I’ll be posting more about the day, how it’s celebrated, and myths and rituals over the next 2 weeks.