What is it about?
Día de Muertos is a traditional Mexican festivity that starts on the 1st of November and ends on the 2nd, although preparations often start at least a week prior and the altars are sometimes left for weeks after.
This anual celebration is an opportunity for people to remember their loved ones who have passed. It is believed that during the month of November the veils between life and ‘the other side’ are thinner and those who have departed can come to visit their friends and family.
The 1st of November is traditionally dedicated to the remembrance of children who have transitioned and on the 2nd adults and elderly deceased are celebrated.
This national holiday is celebrated in schools and in the streets by everyone. Having been born in Mexico, I grew up with this custom all around me and I loved it so much that I want to share about it with others.
How is it celebrated?
During this festivity, families create beautiful altars at home that they cover with ofrendas (offerings), including:
- marigold flowers,
- pan de muerto (a special bread made for this celebration),
- sugar and chocolate calaveras (skulls),
- pictures of the deceased loved ones and anything else their deceased friends and family ones loved
Most families also visit the cemetery to clean and decorate their loved ones’ tombs with flowers.
Traditionally families would go to the cemetery in the evening to spend the night there. They bring their loved ones’ favourite foods to share with everyone and spend the night remembering them, sharing stories of when they were alive.
Another way people celebrate Dia de muertos is by dressing up as calacas y calaveras (skeletons and skulls) and as Catrinas, a satirization of an upper class woman of the Porfiriato (late 19th century when General Porfirio Díaz ruled Mexico as president.).
People go out into the streets dressed up and parade, displaying their elaborate costumes celebrating death.
When I moved from Mexico to Europe as a teenager, I was surprised by the way people related to death. It seemed like it must never be mentioned, as if it wasn’t the one thing we know we’ll all experience.
To someone who is new to this tradition, it may seem morbid perhaps, but I like to think that reflecting on death and talking about it is important. I also think reminiscing about all those who are no longer in this physical realm can be a joyful shared experience. And I truly believe that honouring our ancestors is an integral part of living life with a sense of belonging and purpose.
How you can celebrate Día de Muertos at home
I can already hear someone in the back saying “what about cultural appropriation?” – so I’ll say a word on this.
I am not saying pretend you are Mexican and adopt this tradition as your own without acknowledging where it comes from.
I simply recognise that everyone dies and if you are reading this you have most probably already ‘lost’ one or more friends and/or family members.
Grief is not easy to navigate, especially in a society that denies death and avoids conversations about it and I found that commemorating those who have passed can bring some comfort in mourning and doing it with others can feel less lonely.
If you feel called to have your own celebration of Dia de Muertos at home, you can very simply create an altar by placing a cloth on a table, covering it with fresh flowers, candles, photos of your loved ones and fruit and/or sweets they loved. If you don’t have a photo of someone who has passed you can also write their name on a piece of paper and put it on your altar. Light the candles, play a song they liked and remember the good times you shared. You can even speak to them. This may feel odd at first but it can be really freeing and soothing too.
You can also invite a friend or more to share about their deceased ones and to share foods and drink they loved too.
You can keep the altar for a few days and when you decide it is time to ‘pack up’ the altar remember that we may not see or hear the people who have transitioned but it doesn’t mean that they are gone.
Thank you for reading,
With love to you and your loved ones, here and beyond