Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated across México that honors the lives of those who have passed on. The holiday is a unique blend of indigenous rituals and Catholicism, brought to México by the Spanish conquistadores.
In México, death is not something to be feared, dreaded or considered final. Instead, it is seen as part of a natural process where the physical and spiritual life (death) are part of the same cycle. Día de los Muertos is observed over the span of two days: November 1 is “Día de los innocentes” or the day of the children and November 2 is All Souls Day or Day of the Dead. Traditionally, in México, families visit the cemetery to have a picnic beside the graves of their relatives. This picnic is meant to be a joyous occasion where food and the warmth of the family are shared symbolically with their deceased relatives.
Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Día de los Muertos is the altar (ofrenda), which is usually created in homes to remember the deceased relatives. Altars incorporate many elements including photographs, pan de muerto (a special sweet bread made in the shape of human figures to represent the souls), water, atole, coffee, tequila, or any other favorite food and drinks of the departed. An essential component of the ofrenda are cempasúchils or marigolds, which are meant to light the pathway for the deceased as they return home to rejoin their family. Traditional altars also include freshly prepared favorite dishes of the deceased. All these items are thought to be a bridge between the physical and spiritual world, helping the deceased relatives feel comfortable and at home again.
Like food or music, the Día de los Muertos celebration varies by region in México. The states of Oaxaca, Michoacán, Chiapas, Yucatán, Tlaxcala, and Morelos are known to have some of the richest history and most elaborate traditions. The Día de los Muertos tradition continues to be celebrated throughout México and many Mexican-Americans across the U.S. observe the holiday and embrace the traditions as a way to remember their departed loved ones.