In the event of a loved one passing away, a lot of thought goes into their funeral services. We reflect upon the beautiful life they lived and pay respect to who they were. But still the question remains for many: How do we continue to remember our friends and family even years after their passing?
In Mexico, a special time is dedicated to this each year on the 1st and 2nd of November. Perhaps you’ve heard of “Día de Muertos” or “Day of the Dead” before, or even watched Disney’s hit feature film, “Coco.” Whether any of this rings a bell or not, let’s jump into what this “celebration of life” really is, and why it remains so highly important in the world today.
Where did Day of the Dead originate? Believe it or not the holiday dates back to being celebrated 3,000 years ago. The Aztecs first commemorated their deceased and overtime the special event has evolved in our modern day. They believed there were certain things they could do to invite the dead back for one night each year. Let’s talk about some of the custom traditions that are associated with Day of the Dead that millions still celebrate today…
Dancing & Parades
A largely held belief in Mexico and Latin America is that death is simply a part of life and is something to be celebrated and commemorated as well. Because of this, the respect people hold for their ancestors is expressed through festive dance routines and parades that take place in the streets for all to see and enjoy. This music and dancing unite the public and is a way to get everyone involved in honoring those who have passed on.
What would any holiday or celebration be without those special dishes that bring everyone together? Pan de Muertos or, “bread of the dead” is something nearly everyone will either bake or purchase in preparation to Day of the Dead. This sweet bread is placed upon altars to honor the dead. Something else surely worth mentioning are the sugar skulls, these represent a departed skull and the name of the deceased on the forehead and placed as an offering as well.
Making Your Own Ofrenda!
So, we’ve made mention to various foods being placed upon an altar or “ofrenda,” but what purpose does the altar serve on the Day of the Dead? Let’s break it down with some steps of how to make your own ofrenda, and some of the things you might like to include in it:
- Find an area in your home such as a table, or a bookshelf.
- Buy marigold flowers, the yellow golden blooms are vibrant and believed to “attract” the dead.
- It’s time to get crafty! Papel picado is tissue paper cut out with decorative shapes. This thin paper material represents the union between life and death as well as the fragility of our lives!
- Light candles on your offering, as they are believed to “light the way” for your loved ones to find what you have gathered for them.
- Favorite foods of the deceased as well as custom dishes. The food and beverages placed on the altars are meant only for those being honored and children are told not to eat the sweets!
- Print off or gather photos of your loved one that you feel represent their personality best. Also, an important element is gathering a personal belonging or two of theirs!
However you choose to honor your loved one with Day of the Dead coming just around the corner, it is important to remember that our efforts count! Remembering those who we miss and dedicating a special time each year to honor them can connect us in a remarkable way. Enjoy this celebration of life and death!
Take a closer look at the celebrations through this video by National Geographic below: