Day Of The Dead

Day Of The Dead Videos:

What is the Day of the Dead?

People who first hear about the Day of the Dead for the first time may be forgiven for immediately associating it with Halloween. After all, the annual holiday now falls around the same time as Halloween and has similar themes of death and make-up. However, the Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos in Mexico, or Día de los Muertos in back-translated Spanish) has a cultural history that runs deeper than costumes and trick-or-treating.

The Day of the Dead originated in central and southern Mexico and today combines aspects of Aztec and Catholic traditions to celebrate dearly departed family members whose souls return for an annual reunion with their loved ones. This bittersweet day of remembrance is less solemn than one may expect with colorful decorations, delicious foods, and intricate make-up all used to commemorate those who have passed.

When is the Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead is celebrated annually starting on October 31st and ending on November 2nd. That’s right, the Day of the Dead is a three-day celebration which falls on the same days as Allhallowtide (including Halloween). There are historical reasons for this seemingly coincidental phenomenon, and they are the result of Catholic influence in Latin America.

What is the difference between Day of the Dead and Halloween?

There are many differences between the Day of the Dead and Halloween, but the main difference between the two holidays is the focus on family. While the Day of the Dead and Halloween both have elements of death, the Day of the Dead completely centers the celebration of deceased relatives and takes place over three days.

In contrast, Halloween is just one day of the traditional Allhallowtide and is now much more commercial holiday focused on dressing up in costume and trick-or-treating.  You may notice many similarities as well, nearly all of which are the result of Catholic influences. The roots of Halloween can be found in Pagan and Christian traditions, while the roots of Día de los Muertos are found in Aztec goddess worship.

At the time of the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in central Mexico, Día de los Muertos here are certainly similarities between the two. Día de los Muertos originated as a day of worship to Mictecacihuatl, the Goddess of Death who presides over the underworld in Aztec mythology. This celebration occurred in July/August nearly 500 years ago.

Yet with the arrival of the Conquistadors, efforts by the Catholic invaders to abolish Aztec cultures and traditions led to a blending of customs, which is why the Day of the Dead is now celebrated at the same time as Allhallowtide.  Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, has found a broader global audience thanks to popular culture vehicles like Instagram and the Pixar animated film Coco.

Images of skull make-up, shrines (ofrendas), and colorful flowers immediately come to mind. There are important Día de los Muertos traditions and customs to keep in mind when celebrating the Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead Traditions and Symbols?

There are many things that Mexicans commemorating the Day of the Dead do to honor those who have passed away.

Making Day of the Dead Ofrendas or Altares (offerings or altars):

Also known as an altar, the building of an ofrenda is an important custom of Día de los Muertos. The ofrenda is not built for worship. Rather, it is where family members place their offerings for the souls of their relatives who are returning during Día de los Muertos. Some of the most common things that you will find in the ofrenda are pan de muerto and other foods, salt and water, flowers such as the Mexican marigold (cempasúchitl), Christian iconography, photographs and personal objects of the deceased, candles, calacas y calaveras (skeletons and skulls), and even alcohol and tobacco.

Day of the Dead foods:

There are several foods associated with the Day of the Dead. The most common are sugar skulls and pan de muerto. Sugar skulls are the most commonly known. Mainly used for decorative purposes, sugar skulls are often made from granulated white sugar and pressed into molds, though they are sometimes made from chocolate as well. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread that is often sweetened with orange flower water and anise and sprinkled with sugar. The pan de muerto represents an earthly gift to the souls of the departed on an ofrenda and makes for a delicious way to commemorate the day.

Flowers used on the Day of the Dead:

During the Day of the Dead, the Mexican marigold (cempasúchitl) is a common sight on ofrendas and in the cemeteries. This flower is thought to guide souls back to our world like a pathway from the underworld and their sweet scent is said to awaken the dead. Several white flowers are used as well, including the white orchid, gladiole, and chrysanthemums. These flowers represent peace and sympathy. The white flowers are often used on November 1st, during the Day of the Innocents, to honor children and infants who have died. The white flowers symbolize the innocence and purity of the children.

Costumes for the Day of the Dead:

Dressing up for the Day of the Dead is very different from the US traditions of dressing up for Halloween. Since the holiday is meant to honor deceased relatives and is rooted in the worship of the Goddess of Death in Aztec traditions, you will not find Mexican dressing up like ghosts, witches, or certain Hollywood superheroes. Instead, traditional attire for the Day of the Dead often includes suits, dresses, and make-up like La Catrina.

Skull makeup has become a popular way for revelers to celebrate the Day of the Dead. La Catrina has become an important symbol of the Day of the Dead; depicted similarly to the Goddess of Death, the “costume” is in essence skull makeup with fancy dress. The depiction of La Catrina dates back to the early 1900s and an etching by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, who satirized grandiose appearances of the wealthy with calaveras to show that, underneath it all, we are all the same.

Tattoos for the Day of the Dead:

Though tattoos are not a tradition of the Day of the Dead, many Mexican expatriates and visitors to Mexico are interested in getting ink related to the occasion. Some of the more common Day of the Dead tattoos depict the traditional symbols of the holiday such as sugar skulls and marigold. It is important to be respectful of the traditions and cultural significance of the Day of the Dead and, if you choose to get a Day of the Dead tattoo in Mexico, consult with the tattooist to ensure that your selection is honoring the spirit of the celebration and is not appropriative.

Day of the Dead Music:

For many people unfamiliar with the Day of the Dead, a party in a cemetery can seem out of place. However, the Day of the Dead is less a solemn affair and more a celebration of the lives of those who have departed. Music is an important aspect of Latin American cultures, and it’s no surprise that music plays a role in the Day of the Dead. Mexican folk music from banda to mariachi combines a variety of instruments and styles. Though there is no specific type of music associated with the Day of the Dead, there is an endless number of songs about death that can be played to honor this day and celebrate death as a natural part of life. These include songs like “La Llorona,” “El dia de Muertos,” or “Viene la muerte echando rasero.”

Artwork used on the Day of the Dead:

As mentioned above, the most popular example of Day of the Dead artwork is Jose Guadalupe Posada’s etchings. His artwork has influenced the iconography of modern celebrations of the Day of the Dead and is responsible for the global resonance of the skull and skeleton with the celebration. Drawings like La Calavera Catrina and Jarabe Tapatio Dance are important to the roots of Day of the Dead artworks, but they are far from being the only ones. Wood carvings of skulls and sculptures of the Catrina (skeleton lady) made from clay are commonly found around the Day of the Dead and in many tourist areas across Mexico.

Another common sight during the Day of the Dead, and other Mexican celebrations, is the papel picado; the colorful paper banners you see adorning alleyways, shops, and homes. Historically, the garland was made from tree bark and painted to decorate religious places of worship before the arrival of the Spanish. Today, the decoration is made from intricately cut colored tissue paper and, as recently as the 1970s, has become a traditional way to decorate ofrendas during the Day of the Dead.

Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Cancun:

If you happen to find yourself in Cancun during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), or you planned your trip to coincide with the celebration, you are in for a unique experience. There are many ways to partake in the festivities in a respectful way that honors the traditions, culture, and history of this important day. You do not need to be in Mexico City to have a fantastic time during the Day of the Dead. Below, you will find some awesome ways to have fun on the Day of the Dead in Cancun.

Xcaret Celebrates the Day of the Dead:

Visitors to Cancun who want to partake in Day of the Dead celebrations respectfully will find no better place than Xcaret. Xcaret Park is located in Playa del Carmen with endless attractions, and we mean endless. Whether you are looking for natural wonders like cenotes and rainforest exploration or attractions such as aviaries, butterfly pavilions, aquariums, and Mayan ruins, Xcaret is the place for you.

Every year, Xcaret hosts the Festival of Life and Death Traditions. This festival allows visitors to take part in the culture of the Day of the Dead. With the purchase of a day pass, you can taste delicious food such as the pan de muertos and sugar skulls, gorditas, and tamales, visit ofrendas adorned with marigolds and papel picado, and create your handicrafts.

Day of the Dead Parade in Downtown Cancun:

The annual Day of the Dead parade in downtown Cancun brings hundreds of people together to celebrate the holiday and honor the deceased. The festival is known as Festival del Dia de Muertos “Cena de Animas” is a showcase of art, food, and music all centered on this holiday. Over 450 artists and musicians hold exhibitions across the downtown area. Bring your camera to the main stage at Parque de las Palapas to watch traditional dances and hear different styles of music. Later, taste all of the delicious foods associated with the Day of the Dead and the Yucatan region. Transportation can be arranged at your hotel, but be sure to check out events nearby as well.

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