Day of the Dead (Mexico)
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El Dia De Los Muertos
For more than 400 years, The Day of the Dead has been a celebration of the dead,
featuring parades, feasts, decoration and alters, paying reverence to one's deceased
loved ones. Practiced originally by the Aztecs and the Mayans.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern
Mexican holiday to indigenous observances
dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec
festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl.
The holiday has spread throughout the world:
In Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that
many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries
and churches. In Spain, there are festivals and
parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather
at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones.
Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe,
and similarly themed celebrations appear in many
Asian and African cultures.

The Spaniards when coming to the Americas in the 1500's found the Aztecs had a
festival which lasted a month, welcoming the returning spirits of their ancestors. With
dance, music and offerings of corn, squash and other harvest foods, they encouraged
the spirits to visit. The Aztecs were not the only tribe that celebrated their ancestors
in this manor; the Incas, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totnacs, and Mexicans also have a rich
history of this form of ancestor veneration.

When most of Mexico, and Central America was converted to Catholicism this
festival morphed into a nine day Festival that ended on November 2nd; All Soul's
Day. The essence of that celebration remains today.
Since the purpose of these altars is to attract the soul
of the dead, they are loaded with that person’s
favorite things as well as other items that are
symbolic. Skulls made of sugar are a common
symbolic treat, a reminder that while life is sweet,
death is not to be feared.

This is also of day of feasting for the living. Symbolic
foods include: chocolate drinks with cinnamon and
sugar, tamales, pan de muerto (special bread in the
shapes of the deceased), and champurrado, a
chocolate dipping sauce for the bread. Chocolate is
Families spend a good portion of the year
planning and preparing for this most respected
and celebrated holiday in the Latino countries.  
Depending on the traditions that have been
handed down after they clean their homes
spotless, the family will either go to the
cemetery or their home and build elaborate
altars dedicated to their deceased loved ones.

These altars usually contain; candles, pictures
and/or statues of the Virgin Mary, the Christian
cross, candy, cocoa, fruits, nuts, and any other
food or drink that the departed enjoyed in life.
Almost all celebrations include some form of music
and dancing, in some areas they wear skull masks
with the departed’s name on the forehead: while in
others they wear colorful masks and costumes to
call out their ancestors’ spirits.  Shells attached to
clothes attract the dead, with the sound of the
clinking, as they dance and move around. (Giving
us the original meaning of “waking the dead”) The
celebration can take on a tone of humor as
celebrants share funny antidotes, and humorous
events from the lives of their loved ones. Yet in
used to symbolize the pre-Hispanic times when cocoa was used for currency. During
those times, people were buried with cocoa beans, to be used for bribes in the

There is no one way to celebrate the holiday; there are varied customs from town to
town, and family to family. However marigolds are the traditional flower of the Dia
de la Muerto.
some areas, children dress up and go around begging for money, but do not knock on
doors. Some people take a much more personal approach and have the deceased
tattooed on them, or have elaborate dolls made of their loved ones.

Another celebration is a candle-lit boat procession (Mariposas) making their way to
the island of Janitzio on Lake Pátzcuaro and then to Janitzio's Church and graveyard,
remaining there for the night for a large festive vigil with much imbibing involved.
This is a main activity on this island.

This holiday is so important to the Hispanic culture that schools and the governments
also build shrines, but leave the religious items off the display.

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