Halloween’s roots can be traced back to paganism or early Christianity, but in contemporary America, the fright fest serves as an annual cause for debauchery. Kids and adults alike around the country and beyond dress up in ghoulish masks or devilishly scanty costumes, and go out on the town for some wicked fun.
Thursday (Nov. 2) marks Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, and it is not to be confused with the Western concept of “All Hallows’ Eve.” For centuries, Mexico and families of Mexican heritage have observed Dia de Los Muertos, a tradition that precisely honors their ancestors and dearly departed.
“My family and I create an altar every year with our ancestor’s favorite foods and liquors, and we wait for them – for their spirits – to visit it us to eat or partake in their choice vice,” comments celebrated Mexican electronica DJ and producer, Camilo Lara, who also curated the soundtrack for Pixar’s upcoming Coco film, which also honors Dia de Los Muertos. “The altar, the offerings, they serve as a token of remembrance of those who came before us, of our beloved deceased. The idea behind Dia de Los Muertos is that our loved ones return to us from their spiritual journey,”
Google today celebrates the Mexican holiday, with a doodle boasting key symbols associated with Dia de Los Muertos, such as candles, brightly colored florals and fruits, with a dog’s skeleton as the centerpiece. In the spirit of honoring those journeying the unknown, here are five key things to know about Dia de Los Muertos:
1. Apart from food offerings and libations, altars (ofrendas) serve as shrines, using images of the deceased and other relics considered holy.
2. Families who gather to celebrate the holiday often also adorn their cemeteries with tissue paper, or papeles picado, which are beautifully cut into elaborate designs and considered a Mexican folk art.
3. The cempasúchil, or the Mexican marigold, is the traditional flower used to honor the dead.
4. Monarch butterflies, which migrate to Mexico every fall, are believed to personify the spirits of ancestors returning to visit.
5. Sugar skulls, often a main component of altars, are not only representative of Mexican folk art, but have a history of Mexican ingenuity and are used to represent a specific departed soul and placed at home or a gravestone.