Today is Día de los Muertos, a holiday that encourages celebrants to honor loved ones who have passed on.
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is most popular in Mexico but is celebrated in countries around the world. Recent movies like “The Book of Life” and “Coco” have made the holiday more popular in the United States, but many still don’t know the history or traditions of Día de los Muertos.
Here’s an overview of the holiday and what you can to to celebrate.
What is Day of the Dead?
According to folk tradition, Day of the Dead is the time when the spirits of the dead can visit the world of the living. It is widely celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, although some regions have different traditions for several days around those dates. For instance, many honor pets who have died on Oct. 27, per USA Today.
Although Day of the Dead is sometimes compared to Halloween, the two are distinct. While Halloween was originally a time to scare away malicious spirits, per CNN, Day of the Dead embraces the dead and welcomes them home.
According to IntraMed, some believe its roots date to pre-Hispanic times, while others believe it comes from European traditions, particularly All Saints’ Day. It is likely a mix of indigenous and post-Hispanic traditions, per CNN, and has become a beloved national holiday in Mexico.
How to celebrate Day of the Dead
Most people take time to visit the graves of their loved ones on Day of the Dead and will clean or decorate the gravesites. CNN reports that many families will gather at cemeteries to share stories of their loved ones and enjoy food together.
Putting up ofrendas, or altars, is also very popular. You can make an ofrenda by clearing a shelf or table in your home and placing pictures of your deceased loved ones on it. Ofrendas are traditionally decorated with cempasúchil, or marigold, a colorful flower with a strong fragrance.
According to Fernanda Cortes, a Mexican American TikToker, the flower’s petals are believed to guide loved ones to their family’s ofrenda. Candles and salt are also placed on the altar to light spirits’ ways and purify the area.
Food is an important part of most holidays, and Day of the Dead is no different. You can put food on your ofrenda as well as an offering to those who have passed on. Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a traditional sweet bread that is often placed on ofrendas and eaten throughout the holiday.
Where to celebrate Day of the Dead
The most famous Day of the Dead celebrations are in Mexico, such Mexico City’s parade and festivities in the states of Michoacán, Puebla and Oaxaca.
These celebrations are breathtaking, and it’s worth planning a vacation to Mexico in early November just to see them. However, there are also many celebrations in the United States that are growing in popularity, such as Noche de Altares in Santa Ana, California, and the All Souls Procession in Tucson, Arizona.
Utah has several Day of the Dead celebrations. The Southern Utah Museum of Art hosts a free event every year with traditional food, music and dancing and educational presentations, and Thanksgiving Point in Lehi holds a similar one.
Whether you celebrate Day of the Dead at home, with family or in an elaborate parade, it’s a wonderful time to consider those who have gone before us and honor their memories.