One of the most anticipated and celebrated holidays in the Mexican culture is Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos is traditionally celebrated with meals, handmade desserts,festivals, and family celebrations in remembrance of deceased ancestors.
The Day of the Dead is a unique festival that is the result of 16th century contact between South America and Europe. It is a hybrid, owing its origins to both Aztec tradition and European religion. The traditional Aztec ceremonies celebrating the dead were held during the summer months and both children and dead ancestors were celebrated by bring offerings of food to altars in honor of the dead.
When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, they brought the Christian Holiday of “All Soul’s Day” with them. This was a Roman Catholic holiday commemorating the dead, and Spanish priests were quick to see a correlation between the Aztec and Christian celebrations. The Aztec festival was moved from Summer to Fall so that it coincided with All Soul’s day and the result of these two cultures coming together is what we now call Dia de los Muertos.
Although most strongly identified with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America and the western United States. On October 31 (All Hallows Eve) children make an altar to invite the spirits of dead children (or Angelitos) to come back and visit. On November first (All Saints Day) the adult spirits come to visit, and on November second (All Souls Day) families go to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their relatives.
This three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds (the flowers of the dead), altars, sugar skulls, incense, and other traditional foods and decorations. A common symbol of the holiday is the skull which is represented in masks and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls. Celebrations in the United States are typically very similar to those held in Mexico.