On the Day of the Dead, it’s believed that the border between the spirit world and the real world dissolve. During this brief period, the souls of the dead awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with their loved ones.
Every November 1st and 2nd hold a special place for both the living and dead within Mexico. The holiday entails a celebration of life as families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration.
November 1st is “el Dia de los Inocentes” or the day of the children and November 2 is All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead. According to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours. The spirits of adults can do the same on November 2.
The Aztecs and other Nahua people living in what is now central Mexico held a cyclical view of the universe, and saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life.
The Day of the Dead can be derived from Aztec origins some 3,000 years ago as the holiday was a celebration of their goddess Mictecacihuatl or Lady of Death.
Upon dying, a person was believed to travel to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead. Only after getting through nine challenging levels, a journey of several years, could the person’s soul finally reach Mictlán, the final resting place.
These ancient beliefs and rituals have led to the contemporary Day of the Dead practice in which people leave food or other offerings on their loved ones’ graves, or set them out on makeshift altars called ofrendas in their homes as an aid and welcoming gift for their journey home.
Today's Day of the Dead
Today the holiday is often misunderstood as a "Mexican Halloween", but is nothing of the sort. There are parades, festivals, and other celebrations honoring their loved ones making their journey back to the Land of the Living. So what are some staples within the Day of the Dead celebrations?
Ofrendas are alters used to beckon loved ones decorated with offerings for the spirits that are meant to represent the four elements: fire, water, earth, and wind.
Fire: Candles are lit to help guide the spirits' journey.
Water: Pitchers of water are left to quench their thirst while traveling to the Land of the Living.
Earth: A variety of traditional foods are prepared to help nourish the dead.
Wind: Papel picado are vibrant delicate paper banners are strung. They're decorated with elaborate cut-out patterns, that are said to allow souls to pass through.