Day of the Dead—or Día de los Muertos as it's known in Spanish—is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated and recognized throughout many other cultures and parts of the world where it is known as Halloween, All Saints' Day, All Souls’ Day, Ghost Festival, and Bon Festival. In Mexico, folks prepare for days in advance of the celebratory days of November 1 and 2.
Instead of aiming to trick, treat, or scare the wits out of people, Día de los Muertos in Mexican culture is about honoring and remembering our deceased loved ones. Revelers celebrate their dead by building ofrendras/altars and adorning them with photographs, candles, colorful paper flowers, sugar skulls and candles. In building these altars, we are inviting the spirits to return for a visit. Just like any great hostess or host, we prepare for our visiting souls by having their favorite treats on-hand (these range from booze to chocolates), decorating our homes, and jamming to our favorite songs. Día de los Muertos parties always revolve around the altars, and serve as a way for us to party with our Dead.
Here is a list of items typically incorporated into Día de los Muertos altars:
Candles - Lit to create a welcoming ambiance for the return of spirits.
Marigolds - These sunny flowers actually symbolize death, and their strong scent is said to help lead the dead to their altars. Marigold petals can be sprinkled on the floor of the altar and from your front door to the altar to create a path for the spirits to enter.
Salt - Represents the continuation of life.
Photos of the deceased - Placed in a prime position on the altar and surrounded by candles.
Sugar Skulls - Symbolize death and the afterlife. Skulls are smiling and welcoming and meant to act as an offering to the deceased.
Food & Drinks - Just like any good host, your loved one’s favorite treats and libations are placed on the altar. Pan de muerto - or the bread of the dead - is also traditionally placed here.
Incense - Copal incense, dried aromatic resin from a tree native to Mexico, is burned to guide spirits back.
Today, we encourage you to build your own altar; it can be very simple with a photo of your loved one, flowers and a candle, or you can go all out. Take a moment to honor your deceased loved ones with this simple dedication ceremony.
A SIMPLE DEDICATION CEREMONY FOR DIA DE LOS MUERTOS:
Find a dimly lit quiet space with a table. Place a photograph of your loved one on the table as well as two candles of the same color side by side.
Light the candle to your left. Take a moment to notice the candle's flame and light it offers. This light represents the love this person brought into your world, and the love they continue to offer through valuable lessons or indelible moments you shared. Say aloud or silently why you are grateful for this person. Thank them for any specific advice they gave you or times in your life that they helped you most. Recognize any traits you admired (ability to make people laugh, to take time to listen, etc.).
Next, light the candle to your right. Notice how much brighter the room is with two candles lit. Place your right hand on your heart, and set an intention to remember your loved one by embodying a trait you admired most in them. Perhaps it was their strength, their vulnerability, or ability to remain calm under pressure. Whatever it is, intend to embody this trait and share their light with those around you. Bow your head to seal your commitment and dedication to this person.
If you can, allow the candles to burn throughout the day or evening to honor your commitment, but be certain not to leave them unattended.
Remember - “Our Dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them,” - George Eliot
We invite you to celebrate your deceased loved ones by sharing their best advice or words of wisdom in the comments area below.
Let’s Celebrate & Light it Up!