Mexico is an amazing country, world-renowned for its rich cultural heritage, its warm-hearted people, and the outstanding Mexican tequila. There is one special time of the year, when all of this comes together and culminates in an unparalleled celebration: the Day of the Dead.
The “Día de Muertos” or “Día de los Muertos” (a back-translation of the Mexican name from English) is a colorful celebration of life and death. On this special occasion, people from all over Mexico and beyond gather with their friends and family in order to honor their lost loved ones. But that doesn’t mean that the Day of the Dead is a day of mourning – on the contrary! It is a colorful celebration full of laughter and joy, of good food, stories and memories.
As you probably know, Mexico’s cultural heritage dates back thousands of years, and so do the origins of the Day of the Dead. Although the celebrations take place on November 1st and 2nd, just like the catholic All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, they have little to do with the Christian holiday. The true origins of this Mexican holiday lie much further in the past.
In the pre-Hispanic cultures of the Aztec and other Nahua people, death did not mean the end of a life, but the transition into another. It was considered a natural part of existence: the dead were never lost, as long as the living kept their memory alive. When the Spaniards arrived about 500 years ago, they brought Catholicism to the New World. Since then, the traditions and rites of the indigenous people got mingled with Christian holy days. The Catholic Church tried to integrate the pre-Hispanic beliefs into the Catholic lifestyle, therefore quite a few aspects of the catholic traditions are to be found in today’s celebrations of the Day of the Dead. Still, the Mexicans never gave up on their positive attitude towards death, which is part of their heritage: Mourning the dead was considered disrespectful in pre-Hispanic cultures.
That’s how this beautiful holiday became what it is today: a meeting of this world and beyond, a colorful celebration of eternal friendship, declared as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
First of all, let us get one thing straight: The Day of the Dead is not Halloween. Although it is celebrated around the same time of the year and both are associated with the iconic skulls, the atmosphere at the celebrations couldn’t be more different. Halloween is spooky. Sure, it is fun as well, but above all it is dark and scary. In contrast, the Day of the Dead is a colorful celebration of life, where love and eternal friendship take the center stage.
It is believed that on the Day of the Dead the gates of heaven open up and all the spirits of the dead are reunited with their families – now that’s a reason to celebrate! Throughout the whole country, and even beyond its borders, people will hold colorful parades and parties, they will put on fancy costumes, dress up as skeletons and paint their faces in the style of the famous.
– the skull – is the most iconic symbol of the Day of the Dead. You will see it literally everywhere: lovingly decorated candy sugar skulls, clay decorations, and, of course, the artfully painted faces of the people. The calaverais much more than a simple skull. It is very symbolic and somehow represents the ancient Mexican traditions, the Mexican heritage. That’s the reason why our tequila bottles are topped with the unique Padre Azul metal skull. With our calavera, we pay homage to the Day of the Dead, and to the Mexican heritage.
– the “offering” – is the tradition that holds the most meaning on the Day of the Dead. It is a kind of altar, built at the family’s homes or at the cemetery and meant to welcome back the souls of the lost loved ones. The ofrenda is full of offerings dedicated to the lost family members: flowers, pan de muerto (a sweet bread decorated with bones and skulls), their favorite food and drinks, sugar skulls, family photos, candles, bright marigolds... The decoration might vary, as it reflects the personal taste of the honored person, but it always represents the four elements: fire, water, earth, and air. And the food? After traveling the whole way from the spirit world back to the world of the living, the dead must be pretty hungry. Thanks to their loving families, their favorite dish will be ready, waiting for them!
– the Mexican marigolds – are believed to attract the spirits with their intense, beautiful color and their lovely scent. They are used as decoration for the ofrendas as well as on the gravesites, and should guide the wandering souls to their families. To help the spirits find their way, the families scatter the colorful marigold petals along paths from the graves to the altars. Apart from that, marigolds also represent the fragility of life.
– colorful pierced pieces of paper – is a Mexican paper craft with cut out designs. It is present in Mexico throughout the whole year, but especially on the Day of the Dead you will see it everywhere, mainly with images of celebrating skeletons, skulls and typical food. It is draped around the ofrendas, where it represents the element air. When it starts to move in the wind, the family will know that the souls of their loved ones have arrived to celebrate with them.
Día de los Angelitos (“Day of the little Angels”) or Día de los Inocentes (”Day of the Innocents”)
At midnight during the night of November 1st, the gates of heaven will open and the spirits of all deceased children will be reunited with their families for 24 hours. On this day, the ofrendas are full of the favorite snacks and toys of the departed children, together with photos and sugar skulls with their names written on them.
Día de Muertos or Día de los Difuntos (“Day of the Dead”)
At midnight of November 2nd, the spirits of the adults will join the celebrations for 24 hours. The ofrendas are filled with the favorite food of the deceased person, with a sweet bread called pan de muerto, and often with a fine tequila or mezcal, sometimes in a bottle, sometimes lovingly arranged in glasses.