By now, you’ve probably seen Disney’s newest animated hit, Coco. It was a visually beautiful film. I mean, I’m kind of excited for when I can cross that marigold bridge myself! Well, maybe not, maybe I can just visit like Miguel did… Or, I can just experience some of the fun here, top-side. Whether you visit Mexico, Montana, or just celebrate at home, here is some info about an increasingly popular holiday celebrating the lives of those that have passed.
The History of Día de Muertos
Día de Muertos, often called Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in English speaking countries, dates all the way back to a month-long Aztec festival celebrating the goddess Mictecacihuatl, or Lady of the Dead. It was originally in the summer but gradually moved to align with the Christian Allhollowtide after Spanish colonization.
Although it’s no longer a full month, it is still a multi-day event with October 31 or All Saints’ Eve being for spirits of children (Día de los Inocentes), November 1 or All Saints’ Day for the spirits of adults, and November 2 or All Souls’ Day.
Until quite recently, only Central and Southern Mexico, Aztec influenced areas, celebrated Day of the Dead. Northern Mexico got involved in the latter half of the 20th century after the Mexican government made it a national holiday with the hope of creating a unifying tradition based on the culture of the indigenous peoples.
How families celebrate Día de Muertos
Día de Muertos is a very personal holiday in that it revolves family and loved ones. The goal of the holiday is to encourage the souls to come visit so they’ll hear all the prayers and comments their living loved ones are sharing.
Families visit the cemeteries to clean and decorate and build altars (both at the graves and at home). These altars are what many of us picture when we think of Día de Muertos. They’re decorated with beautiful orange Mexican marigolds, toys for the children, tequila and mescal for the adults, favorite foods, sugar skulls (another iconic symbol of the celebration) and favorite trinkets or belongings of the deceased. Often families will picnic graveside and regale each other with stories and anecdotes of their loved ones.
A key ingredient in any Día de Muertos is Pan de Muerto! Dead bread here in the US. It is buttery, sweet, and delicious. The souls come through and absorb all the nutrition and calories. The next morning, you’re welcome to feast on the bread yourself. It’s now a tasty non-fattening sweet treat! (Or, so they say…)
How can you celebrate Día de Muertos?
For starters, below is a wonderful recipe for Pan de Muerto and at the bottom of the page is an Altar Starter Pack. These should help you prepared to have your own celebration at home. But, if you’re looking travel, next week I’ll share places to visit and experience the Day of the Dead in person. It’s a serious but also fun holiday to honor those we love and miss.