Dia de los Muertos (DC-5)

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Day of the Dead

Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated on October 31 to November 2. This holiday is celebrated by honoring the deceased with parties, food, drinks, and activities that were the deceased favorite. They would honor the dead by making beautiful altars for the dead with the deceased’s favorite things. In 2008, Dia de los Muertos was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Day of the Dead originated in Mexico in the 16th century to honor the deceased. The Spaniards saw the rituals that the Aztecs has done almost 3,000 years ago. It is believed that the gates of heaven are open on midnight at October 31st and the deceased children (angelitos) come back and are rejoined with their families.

Central and Southern Mexico celebrated Dia de los Muertos by having their parties in the cemeteries. The people gather in cemeteries to build altars (ofrendas) for their deceased love ones. The altars were also built in some Indian villages. Not only were their altars built at their deceased’s grave, but they were also built at their home. The most common decorations that are used are candles, buckets of flowers, peanuts, mounds of fruit, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas, and pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

Some states in Mexico that generally celebrate Dia de los Muertos are Veracruz, Guerrero, Puebla, Oaxaca, Guanajuato, Chiapas , and Michoacan.

The main symbols for Dia de los Muertos are calaveras and calacas (skulls and skeletons). The calaveras and calacas appear everywhere during the celebrations. They  often appear in fancy outfits, entertaining situations, and enjoying life. Most women dress up as a catrina, a female skeleton, and create a dance routine to celebrate life.

Dia de los Muertos combines the Aztec’s ritual with Catholicism, which was brought here by the Spanish conquistadors. Day of the dead is celebrated around the same time as All Soul’s Day and All Saints day.

Day of dead is not only celebrated in Mexico, but it had spread throughout the years to the United States. Arizona has more than dozen events to celebrate the death of their love ones. At the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona, their traditional celebrations has turned into the organization’s signature events. There is a exhibition of ofrendas, music, storytelling, and a procession. In Missoula, Missouri, people who celebrate wear skeleton costumes, walk on stilts, rode novelty bicycles, and have parades through towns.

The meaning of Dia de los Muertos is to remember and pray for the friends and families who have lost their lives. Dia de los Muertos is similar to other societies observances of a time to honor the deceased. The Spanish tradition, for instance, includes parades and festivals, as well as gatherings of families at cemeteries to pray for their deceased loved ones at the end of the day.

Originally, Day of the Dead was not celebrated in northern Mexico, where it was unknown until the 20th century because the people had different traditions. The church and people rejected Dia de los Muertos because it is a day related to syncretizing pagan elements with Catholic Christianity.

Scholars have traced the origins of Dia de los Muertos to indigenous observances going back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival.Dia de los Muertos has spread throughout the world, being absorbed into other traditions to honor the dead. This holiday has become a national symbol and it is taught in nation’s school.

In Europe, Roman Catholic customs absorbed pagan traditions. All Saints day and All Soul day became the autumnal celebration for the deceased. Over many centuries, rites that occurred in cultivated fields, which the souls of the dead were thought to leave after the harvest, to the cemeteries.

In many Europeans countries with a Roman Catholic heritage, All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day evolved their traditions in which people take the day off and head to the cemeteries with candles and flower and give present to children. In Portugal and Spain, offerings are made on this day. A play call Don Juan Tenorio is performed in Spain on this day as well. In Italy, Belgium, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, it is usual for the people to bring flowers to the grave of a loved one and say a prayer to the dead.

In Eastern Europe their holiday is call Dziady and it also has some pagan origins. The ancient tradition in Belarus involved cooking traditional dishes for supper. A fraction of each dish was left overnight for the deceased ancestor. There are often public meetings on this day to remember the victims of the Soviet political repressions. Some local citizens in Czech Republic started to use the Mexican-style, Dia de los Muertos in the late 20th century. There’s a theater group that host events that feature masks, candles, and sugar skulls.

Day of the Dead were developed in ancient traditions among its pre-Columbian cultures. Rituals celebrating the deceased were observed be civilizations for almost 2,500- 3,000 years. The Day of the Dead festival fell onto the the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, in the beginning of August , and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivals were dedicated to a goddess known as, “Lady of the Dead”. who was known as “Lady of the Dead” which is similar to the modern day, La Calavera Catrina.

IN the late 20th century, most regions in Mexico developed practices to honor the deceased children and infants on November 1st and the deceased adults are celebrated on November 2nd. November 1st is known as the Dia de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”) but it is also known as Dia de los Angelitos (“Day of the Angels”); November 2nd is known as Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos (“Day of the Dead”).

People go to cemeteries to be with the soul of the departed and create altars that contain the favorite foods, drinks, and also photographs of the deceased. The reason for this is to encourage visits from the souls, so the souls will hear the people’s prayers that are directed to them. Celebrations may take a humorous tone because the the people who celebrate remember the deceased’s funny and joyous moments.

Plans for the Day of the Dead are made often planned throughout the year. The plans include gathering food to be offered to the deceased. Toys are brought for the dead children (los angelitos) and bottles of tequila, mezcal, or a jar of atole for the adults. Families also offer trinkets of the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Some places in Mexico, including the towns of Mixquic, Patzcuaro and Janitzo , people will spend the night at their loved one’s grave.

The people with talent for writing will often  create short poems called calaveras (skulls), making fun of friends, describing interesting habits and attitudes. This started in the 18th or 19th century after a newspaper was published with a poem that was narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, “and all of us were dead” proceeding to read the tombstone. Newspapers dedicated calaveras  to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of the famous skeletons of Jose Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator.


I really liked how many details you included about this celebration and differences among regional celebrations. One concern was the overall organization: I struggled to find a pattern in how your information was organized. WIthout a pattern, it is hard for your reader to remember the information you've presented. Clearly, you have done a lot of research; next step is to organize it meaningfully.


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