Day of the Dead (el Día de Muertos) is a Mexican celebration that is traditionally honored over a three-day holiday that starts on October 31st and ends on November 2nd, although in most places in Mexico, only November 2nd is fully commemorated. We often recognize these dates as those that coincide with Halloween; however, this religious Mexican festival is associated with remembering dead relatives with honor and reverence rather than scaring each other with costumes and trick or treating.
Traditions Related to the Day of the Dead
Over the three days, families will gather to remember their loved ones who have passed away. Typically they will build an altar for that particular person or multiple people they have lost. They will adorn this temporary altar with photos of the deceased, sugar skulls, a traditional sweet bread called pan de muerto, jewellery and objects that the dead person may have like when they were alive, candles and traditional marigold flowers.
Mexican families will prepare for the Day of the Dead holiday weeks in advance and spend this time collecting the altar food and adornments. Some Mexican families will visit the graves of their dead relatives and leave more offerings. During their time at the graveyards, toys are laid out for the children and tequila for the adults. The graves will be cleaned and decorated and often families will spend all day having picnics at the graveside. In some states families even spend the night at the cemeteries. It is not unknown for graveyards to be filled with the sounds of singing and music as musicians and marchichi entertain the deceased and their loved ones during the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Public schools and government building will often have altars displayed during this public holiday, and school children are sometimes allocated a famous dead person to research and find decorations fitting to their character.
Calaveras for Los Muertos
Another Mexican tradition in honor of the Day of the Dead is to write short, funny poems in honor of the dead; this is a tradition dating back to the 18th or 19th century and they are called Calaveras. These affectionately irreverent poems may describe funny anecdotes or habits the deceased were known for when they were living. This holiday is a lovely way to remember those who have passed on. It is meaningful and gives a few days of the year that is dedicated to those that we remember daily but may not have time to really stop and think and celebrate.
Dead of the Dead Art
Throughout Mexico you will see that much of the artwork is based on the Day of the Dead and death in general. You will see large canvases of skeletons or skulls. The skulls and skeletons will be decorated with bright makeup or vibrant dresses. You will also see paintings that are comic too; perhaps a male and female skeleton riding a bike, or getting married or doing everyday activities that the living do. Some Day of the Dead artworks are darker and may show the dead in the afterlife. Brightly coloured wooden skulls are very traditional and are striking art pieces for the home.
One thing is for sure; if you choose a Day of the dead art piece for your personal space you’re sure to wow and have people ask about the tradition behind it.