Día de los Muertos: A brief history of the holiday

It's a holiday that celebrates life and death.

Every November 1 and 2, Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, celebration happens when people remember those departed.

History of the Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos originated in Mexico. Long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the Aztecs and other cultures believed that death was a natural phase of existence. Native American cultures considered it disrespectful to mourn the dead. When Catholicism came to the Americas, the Day of the Dead festivities were merged with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

What happens during the holiday

It is not a Halloween-style holiday. Lives of the deceased are celebrated by the family. To welcome back the dead to the world of the living, many clean and decorate altars and cemeteries. Orange Marigold flowers are the traditional flowers used in decorating. Favorite things of the dead decorate the altars. Around sunset, families visit the graves and altars and remembers those who passed on with a happy atmosphere. Many light candles as the sun sets.

Day of the Dead Altar

Food

The living and the dead enjoy the special dishes for the event. It’s a long journey back to world of the living so many families leave food offerings on the altar. To counteract the bittersweet feelings of losing a loved one, people make sweet treats including Candy Skulls and Pan de Muerto (a sweet roll topped with sugar and extra bread pieces on top shaped like bones.)

Sugar Skulls

Painted Skulls

You see a lot of skeletons (calacas) and skulls (calaveras) during the festivities. Credit for the colorful display of skulls and skeleton for the Day of the Dead belongs to artist José Posada. His original piece, La Calavera Catrina was a satirical piece of art designed to show how many Mexicans were trying to be European. Now, many celebrators paint their faces in the Catrina-style to symbolize that, beneath the skin, everyone is the same.

Face painting

See some amazing photos from Dia de los Muertos celebrations from around Mexico here.

Related: This creepy skull cake is perfect for a Halloween party

This creepy skull cake is perfect for a Halloween party