In the last years the celebration of Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos has increased in popularity in the U.S. as more and more people are learning about the rich traditions associated with this primarily Mexican holiday that is celebrated in one shape or form throughout all of Latin America.
Day of the Dead is actually a far cry from Halloween, and it’s not as spooky as its name might suggest. Death, in Mexico, is something to be celebrated. The period of mourning happens when the loved one dies, but later the memory of their life and their inevitable death is celebrated every year on November 1 and 2. On November 1, called Día de los Angelitos or day of the little angels, people await the souls of departed children next to their graveyards or at the altars placed for them. On November 2, known as All Soul’s Day, adult souls come down to visit and “enjoy” the treats that have been laid out to them in memory of what they used to like while alive.
What I remember about the Dia de los Muertos celebrations when I lived in Mexico is a lot of tradition, symbolism, color and music. This is probably one of the celebrations in Mexican culture that is the most imbued with culture and beauty. Dating back to the time of the Aztecs, it seems like little tradition has been lost through the centuries and, on the contrary, it’s maintained its richness and roots.
It’s actually very easy to celebrate Day of the Dead with your children and introduce a new cultural tradition into your home. This is especially beautiful if you’ve lost a loved one in your family since it can help children learn to celebrate that person’s life and how they are loved and remembered.
The main component of a Day of the Dead celebration is the altar and the ofrendas or offerings that are placed out to guide the souls on their journey back during their day each year. People can get very fancy with their altars and spend days setting them up and have them take over entire rooms or burial grounds in cemeteries, but a simple altar with all the elements for the offerings is really all that’s needed.
Check out the slideshow below for a full list of what you need to introduce the joyful Day of the Dead celebration in your family. Trust me, everything is full of color, beauty and magic.
Calaveritas 1 of 8Calaveritas are the decorated sugar or chocolate skulls which are both placed on altars and given to people, especially kids, as gifts during Day of the Dead. The idea is to have the calaverita personalized with the name of the person you are gifting it to.
You can even make your own sugar skulls with this set from Amazon. It's a great activity for classrooms!
Photo by zerethv on Flickr
Food and Drinks 2 of 8Water is essential, not only to represent the element, but also to quench the visiting spirit's thirst. All sorts of fruits, sweets and dishes that were the loved one's favorites are left out on the altar for him/her to enjoy when they visit.
Photo by Eneas on Flickr
Cempazuchitl (marigold) Flower 3 of 8The cempazÃºchitl flower grows in abundance in Mexico around this season. Its beautiful bright orange color brings so much life to the altars placed in both homes and cemeteries. The cempazuchitl flowers are used to create pathways leading up to the altars to guide the spirits on their way there.
Photo by GaboFR on Flickr
Photos of loved ones 4 of 8The photos are just to make the spirit feel welcomed and missed.
The woman on the photo above is actually Stacy the Ghost Host from Disney's Happiest Haunts Tours and was taken at the Day of the Dead celebration at Zocalo Park in Disneyland.
Photo by Loren Javier on Flickr
Calacas 5 of 8Calacas are basically fun and lively skeletons. They are used to decorate the altar and even to represent a deceased person. Rarely is a calaca solemn. They are usually dressed up in different characters.
Photo by GaboFR on Flickr
Pan de Muertos 6 of 8Pan de muertos is a sweet bread that's typically baked during the Day of the Dead season. In many regions, the bread will be decorated with strips of baked dough that represent the deceased's bones.
You can actually make pan de muerto yourself with this recipe here, find it at your local Mexican bakery -- if you're lucky enough to have one! -- or just order one from Amazon.
Photo courtesy of Gabriela's Kitchen for SpanglishBaby.com
Papel Picado 7 of 8
Candles or Veladoras 8 of 8The candles are used both to represent the element of fire, since all elements must be present in an altar, and to light the way for the spirit. Most altars will have a pathway made up of cempazuchitls and candles, with more candles -- usually four -- placed on the altar to represent each cardinal point.
Photo by Esparta on Flickr
For more inspiration, information, recipes and crafts about Día de los Muertos, or to share your own, check out the Day of the Dead Celebration and blog hop going on at SpanglishBaby.com right now!
Share with us in the comments, do you celebrate Day of the Dead with your children or plan to start?
Buy the book I co-authored, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America.
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