Día de Muertos – The Day of the Dead
Celebrating Halloween is a tradition for many, but outside of the United States it is less common, and in Mexico another holiday takes up the date. For those looking for a taste of Mexican culture, the Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos is a multi-day holiday or festival, held between the final day of October and November 2nd, encompassing the Catholic holidays of All Saints Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. These dates are known as Allhallowtide, or Hallowtide, which is where the American Halloween, celebrated on All Saints Eve, gets its name. While most know enough about the Day of the Dead to connect it with Mexican sugar skulls and the festival, there is much more to the cultural heritage and history of this Mexican holiday than immediately meets the eye.
What is the Day of the Dead?
The Day of the Dead is literally a holiday dedicated to those who are no longer living, where families and entire towns go out to graveyards to take care of graves, offer gifts to the dead, and celebrate the lives of those who have died. The holiday has roots in the celebrations of ancient Mesoamerican cultures, including the Aztecs, and was typically celebrated in the middle of summer. After the 16th century, the Spanish moved the holiday to coincide with the existing Catholic holidays, which was a common practice at the time.
While many Catholic influences have been integrated into the holiday, as is only right considering that its celebrants have been primarily Catholic for four centuries, the holiday retains its original goal of celebrating and respecting the dead, wherever they are.
How to Celebrate the Day of the Dead
There are many traditions that are used to celebrate the Day of the Dead, and they are easy to take part in.
Ofrendas – Ofrendas or offering altars are constructed using sugar skulls, marigolds, food, beverages, and other favorites of the person who is being celebrated. These altars are intended to guide the dead back to earth for the festival, where they can reconnect with those they have left behind. Ofrendas can be simple or elaborate, but traditionally feature three levels. The top tier represents the person being celebrated with photos, icons of saints, and other identifying memorabilia, which is placed at the back of the altar. The second tier is designed to make the deceased feel at home and includes favorite foods, as well as traditional foods such as mole, pan dulce, candy, and pan de muerto. This level may also include tequila, corn, or even a favorite toy for a child. The final tier features candles and may include a bowl of water, soap, and a mirror, intended to allow the spirit to refresh themselves at the altar.
Calavera – Calavera or sugar skulls are decorated objects made from clay or sugar in the form of a human skull. Calavera are typically edible, and are usually handmade to celebrate the next stage of life. Most Calavera available in stores in the United States are not edible.
Candle Vigils – A large part of the Day of the Dead is showing your respects to the deceased, and this includes visits to the graveyard. While traditionally, this included all night candlelight vigils by the gravestones of the deceased, few are allowed to do so in American graveyards. Visits should include cleaning up the grave, bringing flowers such as marigolds, and trinkets or other small gifts which are to be left on the grave.
Literary Calaveras - Literary Calaveras, translated to Skulls, are traditional mock epitaphs written about friends and family on the day. These epitaphs are written in the spirit of fun and typically satirize the habits, quirks, and attitudes of friends and loved ones.
Tamales – Tamales are a popular food served by street vendors and made in homes and frequently served as part of the Day of the Dead celebration. Tamal date back to Aztecan times and feature a filling wrapped in cornmeal dough wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf.
The exact traditions of the Day of the Dead can vary a great deal depending on the location, and celebrations are vastly different between one Mexico city and the next. Despite that, outsiders are generally very welcome, and in many areas, visitors are given food in exchange for wax candles, and are invited to join in on the festivals and parades held in many large cities to celebrate the event. For example, the Catrina skull, commonly seen in face paint on the Day of the Dead, was originally created as a satire piece by artist José Guadalupe Posada, but is now the most internationally famous image of the Day of the Dead.
Experience more of Mexico's culture at Agave Fresh Mex and Cantina. Food has always been one of the most important parts of any culture, and we prepare authentic Mexican foods with fresh, traditional ingredients, right here in Ormond Beach.