The Cemetery during Dia De Los Muertos

Traditional Altar in Oaxaca


In Mexico, preparations for the Dia De Los Muertos celebration usually begin in mid-October.  Gravesides are cleaned, painted and adorned.  Marigolds, baby's breath and cockscomb are often artistically arranged on the graves.  Marigold petals are scattered on the grave with the belief that this will help the souls of the deceased find their way back.

A candlelight procession to the cemetery is held in the pueblo on the eve of the celebration. Offerings are brought to the graves including the favorite foods, drink, toys, and personal belongings of the departed. Family members spend the night celebrating there, sharing the memory of their dearly departed. The celebration is not a mournful one, but rather a time to share stories and visit with the souls of the departed. In the words of the writer Octavio Paz, "Fiesta (Celebration) allows us to throw down our burdens of time and reason." In the fiesta of Muertos, time no longer bars one spirit from another by reason of death.

What is the difference between Halloween and Day of the Dead?

Halloween is based on the medieval European Wheel of the Year; the pause between the last day of harvest and the beginning of winter, when no food grows. Halloween is the Celtic New Year when the veil between the spirit world and the living flesh world is thinnest. Contact is made with the spirits of departed loved ones as sources of guidance and wisdom.

The Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) is a uniquely Indo-Hispanic custom that demonstrates a sense of love and respect for ancestors. It celebrates the continuance of life, family, relationships and community solidarity; and even finds humor after death.

Why do they use skeletons and skulls?

Cajita de MuertosDia De Los Muertos represents the spirit, which lives on. Since death comes to all humans, rich or poor and to all races, the figurines represent all walks of life: doctors, mothers, prostitutes, farmers, artists, hairstylists and others. Skeletal images are generally happy and humorous, very life like, unlike the frightening images of Halloween that commercialism has created.

Children are taught not to fear death because it is inevitable. Children learn to make, eat, and play with articles of death. Toys are used as offerings dedicated to dead children. They are made with humor (often satire), affection, charm, and much glitter and tinsel. Most are ephemeral. In this sense, "death" becomes familiar.

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