A Post-Mortem Reunion
El Día de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that has been around for 3,000 years. During this time, families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion. According to Mexican traditions, at midnight on October 31, the gates of heaven open and children's spirits can reunite with their families. On November 2, the same thing happens to adult spirits.
The Day of the Dead originates in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and is celebrated in many Mexican regions. In order to help the dead get on their journey to Mictlán, a heaven-like final resting place, family members put food, water, and tools on their graves to help the dead on their difficult journey. They also put flowers and lit candles to illuminate the dead souls’ way back to their homes.
The holiday is not commonly thought of as a Mexican version of Halloween, although the two holidays do share some traditions including costumes and parades. Popular costumes that are worn during el Día de los Muertos include women wearing traditional Mexican dresses, big feather hats, flower crowns, sugar skull paint, and anything colorful. Men wear guayaberas, which are traditional summer shirts, or they wear an elegant dark blazer. On the Day of the Dead, people believe the border between the spirit world and the real world is dissolved. During this period, the souls of the dead awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance, and play music with their loved ones. The living family members treat the dead as an honored guest in their celebration. Surviving family members will leave all of the deceased family member’s favorite food and other offerings at the graveside or at the ofrendas built in their homes. An ofrenda can be decorated with candles, bright flowers like marigolds and red cockscomb, and heaps of fruit, bread, tamales, and more. The most prominent symbols that relate to the Day of the Dead are calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls). During the Day of the Dead festival, most people wear skull masks and eat sugar candy molded into skull shapes. To wish someone a happy Day of the Dead in Spanish, say “Feliz Día de los Muertos!”
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