Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Dia de los Muertos 2021 (Collaboration with Northville District Library)

Welcome to our Dia de los Muertos guide page!

Dia de los Muertos - what is it?

via Wikimedia Commons

Día de muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a festive occasion observed in Mexico on November 1 and 2. During the colonial era, a mixture of Spanish Catholic religious rites and pre-Hispanic traditions that commemorated people's deaths through the wearing of costumes gave rise to this celebration. On the Day of the Dead, people visit cemeteries and place flowers and candles on gravestones; they also make offerings of food and drinks to the spirits of the departed. In the early twenty-first century, celebrations occur across the entire country, with some regional and ethnic differences. A central element in every region is setting up an ofrenda ("offering"), both in cemeteries and homes; on and around these little altars, families arrange trinkets, food, drinks, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead"), and calaveritas or calaveras, small, skull-shaped candies with the names of family members on the forehead. The purpose of ofrendas is to offer the souls that visit their living relatives some of the food or drinks they used to taste in life. In some areas, people remain in graveyards all night. The towns Mixquic and Pátzcuaro are known for their traditional Day of the Dead celebrations.

Lugo, P. O. F. (2008). Día de Muertos, Calaveras. In J. Kinsbruner & E. D. Langer (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture (2nd ed., Vol. 2, p. 799). Charles Scribner's Sons. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3078901892/GVRL?u=lom_waynesu&sid=bookmark-GVRL&xid=332ffce4 

 

Origins

Before the arrival of Europeans the Aztecs had a monthlong celebration at the end of summer, at the time of the corn harvest, related to their god-dess Mictecacihuatl, who was considered closely related to death. She was thought to guard the bones of the dead. The celebration sought to recognize the continuity between those living and those who had died. It was seen as a time to celebrate the lives of those who had died. The lives of deceased children were observed first, followed by deceased adults. Skulls were used in the festival.Ancient Mesoamericans were agrarian and depended upon the fertility of the soil. Their belief system, as well as that of many other groups, held that departed souls were partially responsible for crop production. The festival to honor the dead, held during harvest time, was at least one effort to ensure the continued production of crops. Gener-ous offerings of food were given to departed peo-ple as a way to prepare for a bountiful harvest. As is the case with today’s celebration, the ancient people of Mexico did not view death as a finality.

The interaction of the living and the dead was symbolized in the carrying out of this celebration.When the Spanish conquerors entered Mexico, Catholic priests accompanied them to seek to make Christians of the indigenous peoples. They sought to eliminate practices that were contrary to Catholic teachings. The monthlong celebration devoted to a goddess of death and offering sacri-fices to the dead were seen as practices that had to be stamped out. However, Catholics found the practices deeply ingrained in the culture and were not able to wipe them out. But there were enough parallels between this indigenous celebration and the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day to enable the church to Christianize the pagan prac-tices and fit them within the celebration of these two Christian holidays. Both Catholic holidays had to do with the dead. All Saints Day involved praying to saints, and All Souls Day was a time for praying for the deceased in purgatory.

Carlos E. Cortés. (2013). Multicultural America : A Multimedia Encyclopedia. SAGE Publications, Inc.