El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) or All Souls Day, is a festival celebrated in Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, and other areas of Central and South America, and by Latin Americans living in Canada and the United States. Despite its morbid symbols of skulls, skeletons and death, it’s truly a celebration of the lives of loved ones who have passed into eternal life.
The Day of the Dead is never depicted as a somber or gloomy experience, but as a playful celebration of life, joy, food, family and fun.
Families gather to pray for, honor, and remember family members and friends who have died. The celebration coincides with the Catholic holy days of All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2.
The faithful also visit the graves of deceased relatives, and leave offerings of food and beverages and decorate the grave sites. Nov. 2 is the official liturgical date for the Day of the Dead, although in Mexico it is celebrated from the evening of Oct. 31 through the evening of Nov. 2.
Families pay tribute to their departed loved ones by decorating home altars honoring their dead. The altars feature playful models of human skeletons, molded sugar skulls, brightly colored potted marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. Day of the Dead altars usually have crosses, statues or pictures of St. Mary, and pictures of deceased relatives and friends together with candles, fruits, breads and colorful tissue cutouts.
The Day of the Dead can be traced to indigenous observances in Mexico dating back thousands of years. The holiday eventually became associated with All Souls Day and All Saints Day as the Spanish missionaries incorporated the inculturation of these ancient native customs and traditions in an effort to find similar understandings between the indigenous and Christian beliefs.