Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

Photo by Genaro Servin (image link)

As October gives way to November and autumn fades toward winter in the Northern Hemisphere, millions of people worldwide will turn their attention to remembrance, memorialization, and celebration. It's this time of year that the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated.

The Origins of the Festival

There are several schools of thought on where the day comes from and what it originally meant. Some believe it is a modern version of an ancient indigenous festival from long before the Spanish arrival in the Americas, while others believe that it stems from a medieval European tradition.

The truth may be somewhere between the two, and the festival has evolved over time to incorporate both European Hispanic elements and long-standing indigenous beliefs and cultures. The Day of the Dead remains hugely significant to this day and has been included on UNESCO's List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2008.

Dia de los Muertos Today

The famous calavera sugar skulls. Photo by Ivan Jaimes (image link)

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Today, the Dia de los Muertos carries enormous cultural significance for people in Mexico and those with Mexican heritage across the world. Other Central and South American cultures have their own festivities, but the Dia de los Muertos is a distinctly Mexican event.

This is a time to remember and honor the dead, offering up gifts and tributes that reinforce the connection between the living and those who have passed on. The occasion is not really a somber one. Instead, it is more of a party to which the souls of the dead are invited — a chance for the living and the departed to come together once again, enjoying food, drink, music, and celebration.

This means creating private altars with ofrendas, or offerings, to attract the souls of those who have left the world of the living. These altars are brightly decorated with flowers and streamers and also feature items that are personal to the deceased individual. Favorite foods and drinks, images of the deceased, name cards and prints, and other items that represent the individual are all placed around the altar, creating a personalized focal point for remembrance.

Families may then place the altar somewhere in the home, in a public space, or even beside the grave or resting place of the deceased.
It's not just the favorite food of the deceased person that is prepared for the Dia de los Muertos. Traditional foodstuffs, such as tamales and pan de muerto (or bread of the dead), are commonly prepared and eaten during this time, as well as the famous sugar skull (the calavera) — a candy representation of a deceased person's skull. This has become a well-known symbol of the Day of the Dead and is something that many people associate with the festival.

The Day of the Dead in the United States

The festival is observed in many parts of the United States, particularly those with significant Mexican and Latin American populations. The festivities and remembrances tend to be similar to those south of the border in Mexico, although some locations include their own observances.
For example, San Diego, California features its own candlelit processions that are a little different from those carried out elsewhere, while Tucson, Arizona incorporates elements of pre-Christian harvest rituals into its version of the Day of the Dead.

Remember Your Loved One the Way They Should Be Remembered

However you choose to memorialize your loved ones, it can help to have something tangible to remember them by. Take a look at some of the items we offer, like customizable memorial blankets and prayer cards — each of which is designed with personal remembrance in mind. Reach out to our team to discover more. 


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