Dia De Los Muertos is one of Mexico’s traditional holidays reuniting and honoring beloved ancestors, family and friends. It is an ancient and enduring ritual when the living commune with the dead – a mystical night when the veil is lifted between their two realms and they may share a day together.
The historical roots of this celebration date back to the pre-Hispanic cultures of Meso-America of the indigenous people, especially the Nahua (Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecas, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec) and others native to Mexico more than 3,000 years. When the Spaniards conquered the country, this indigenous custom was rooted so deeply that, after five centuries of colonization, it has continued to survive and remain as celebrated as in its first days.
Throughout each period in Mexican culture, death seems to hold no terror. In Mexican art, legends, and religion, death has not been a mysterious and fearful presence but a realistic recognizable character as much a part of life as life itself. Dia De Los Muertos expresses this perspective: it is not a mournful commemoration but a happy and colorful celebration where Death takes a lively, friendly expression and is not frightening or strange. There is no place for sorrow or weeping for this could be interpreted as a discourteous to the dead relatives who are visiting gladly.
Indigenous people believed that souls did not die, that they continued living in Mictlán (Place of Death) a special place for them to finally rest. On Dia De Los Muertos, tradition holds that the dead return to earth to visit their living relatives. It is believed that although these relatives can’t see them, they can surely feel them.
This night is an important feast and evocation. It is a time when family members share memorable stories that evoke the lives of their ancestors . Offerings and altars are created to welcome and commemorate the dead. Marigolds and incense are offered in abundance because it is believed their aromatic scents guide the dead to the place where the feast is being held. . A profusion of candles dispels the darkness just as the souls are being illuminated from the shadows of death. Altars are created with photos, mementos, fruit, bread, and other favorite things of the ancestors being welcomed and honored. The artifacts of these altars also provide the opportunity to teach children about those who came before them.
Dia De Los Muertos is a time of celebration on remembrance. It is also a time to come to terms with our mortality and become aware of the cycle of life and death. Rather than deny and fear death this event teaches us to accept and contemplate the meaning of mortality.