What is Day of the Dead?
Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos in Spanish is a Mexican festival that celebrates both life and death. Parades and festivities are held in honour of the dead during the day before people visit the graves of their loved ones in the evening.
Families come together to remember and honour their relatives and friends who have passed away, and invite their spirits to visit them, leaving offerings of their favourite sweets and trinkets on the altars they have prepared for the day.
The festival emphasises celebrating death as a part of life and creating a lively atmosphere. The vivid colours and interesting symbology have caught on around the world, with more and more people are celebrating Dia de los Muertos each year.
When is Day of the Dead celebrated?
Day of the Dead celebrations take place on the 1st and 2nd of November. At midnight on 31st October, the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of the deceased are able to return to their loved ones for the day. On the 1st of November, the angelitos (deceased children) emerge from heaven to visit their families. This day is known as Día de los Inocentes which means ‘Day of the Innocents’.
Children are given the special task of creating ofrendas (altars) to welcome the spirits of the children who have died, and their graves are decorated with white orchids. Family members leave toys, sweets and drinks at their altar so that their child’s spirit can be replenished after the journey.
On the 2nd of November, ofrendas are built for adults who are deceased, their graves and cleaned and decorated and people gather at the cemetery with the favourite food and beverages of the dead. Día de los Muertos is celebrated with lots of music and dancing, and many people wear shells to make noise as they walk, in order to wake up the dead.
Ofrendas are also set up in the home, and blankets and pillows are laid out so the souls can rest after their journey. A lot of care and effort is taken in creating the ofrenda for each lost loved one. Along with their favourite food and drink, the altars are decorated with candles, marigolds, special bread called pan de muerto, shots of mezcal and of course sugar skulls.
What are Sugar Skulls?
The sugar skull has become a popular symbol of Day of the Dead around the world. Known as calavera in Mexico, there is a rich tradition behind these beautifully decorated icons.
The art of crafting figurines out of sugar was introduced to Mexico by 17th century Italian missionaries. As the country was rich in sugar crops, moulded sugar art became a way of honouring religious figures and the dead. The skulls were decorated with great care and the name of the recipient was written across the forehead. Traditionally the skulls were not eaten and were left with the other offerings at the ofrendas of the dead.
The most famous calavera is La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Skull), a caricature drawn by José Guadalupe Posada in the 20th century. His etching pictured a skull in an elaborate hat which was worn by upper-class Mexican women who adopted European styles of dress.
The famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera was inspired by Posada’s image and popularised La Calavera Catrina by including her in a mural of Mexico’s most prominent historical figures. La Catrina came to be regarded as the personification of Día de los Muertos in Mexico, and it is easy to see her influence on modern-day costumes, masks and decorations that lend an opulent style to the imagery of death.
Day of the Dead Women’s Costumes
Day of the Dead Men’s Costumes
Day of the Dead Accessories
Day of the Dead Party Supplies
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