Blog: Dia de los Muertos Overview and Events – November 2, 2011

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican National Holiday, and the country’s largest celebration of the year, although it has spread to many cultures, including Latin America and Europe. People prepare for this holiday throughout the year. Today is Day 2, which is when the souls of deceased adults are warmly welcomed home (children arrived at midnight the night before on the “Dia de los Inocentes”).  Family and friends gather together and remember loved ones that have passed.

The holiday’s roots are traced back to the Aztec ritual for the goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl. The Aztecs displayed skulls to symbolize rebirth and honor the dead, whom they believed came back to visit during the ritual. Death was viewed as a continuation of life. However, Spanish conquistadors considered the ritual be barbaric and to make it more Christian, they moved it to coincide with All Saints Day (11/1) and All Souls Day (11/2).

It is common to find candied pumpkins, sugar skulls (made with the departed’s name on the forehead), pan dulce, candles, and the Marigold flower at grave sites of the departed as ofrendas (offerings) to the dead. Another tradition involves building altars in one’s home honoring the deceased to encourage visits by the souls, which includes pictures of the deceased, candles, and the ofrenda. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey.

Celebrations can take a humorous tone, similar to Halloween, where you can find people dressing up in costume, including the popular caricature, “La Catrina” (above). She was created in the late 1800s by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada as a social commentary for the rich elite. The tradition of dressing up and mocking her still continues today.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, popular events include the SF Annual Day of the Dead Celebration by the Marigold Project, and the Corazon Del Pueblo in Oakland.

Can’t make it to celebrate tonight? Check out some of the other events happening this week.