The foundations of Dia de Muertos can be traced back to the Aztecs and some believe it has been celebrated for almost 3,000 years. The original festival was dedicated to the goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl and has developed into the modern festival Day of the Dead. Originally the dates for Dia de Muertos fell at the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. Now you will see the celebrations last anywhere from 2-3 days, starting at midnight on October 31st, lasting until November 2nd.
A current prominent figure of the Day of the Dead is La Calavera Catrina, who some would say is a modern representation of the goddess Mictecacihuatl from the Aztec civilization. The painted skulls on women’s faces that most westerners are familiar with is often a commercialized take on La Catrina. She was made famous by artist José Guadalupe Posada, as a skeleton dressed up with a fancy hat. La Catrina was originally a commentary on the disparity of wealth controlled by the colonial elite and served as a way discourage the indigenous people from seeking to emulate the european ideals, which is truly dead inside, but dressed in the high fashion of the times.
HONORING THE DEAD
There are many modern day practices of the holiday that you and your family could take part in.
- Visit the cemeteries of a lost loved one to be with them. Bring favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and meaningful keepsakes of the departed?
- Clean and decorate your loved one’s grave?
- Have a picnic at the grave site?
- Leave orange marigolds called cempasuchil. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead?
- Remember your loved one by telling funny stories and anecdotes about their life?
- Buy a toy for los angelitos or the little angels who have passed away (consider donating the gift after the celebration is complete)
- Bring a bottle of tequila, mezcal, or pulque for adult loved ones who have passed away?
- Prepare an ofrenda in your home with your family. Have fall treats, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls.
However you decide to celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is a day that you can honor and remember your loved one. It is also a day to recognize our mortality and continue to remind ourselves of the temporality of life. Every day we have is a gift. Be thankful in remembering the days your loved one had on this earth, however short it was; and use the time you have well.