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What is Dia de los Muertos and when is it celebrated?

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:29 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:30 AM
By: Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk - Cox Media Group National Content Desk

It’s not quite Halloween, despite its outward appearance. And, while the dead are involved in Dia de los Muertos, it’s in anything but a macabre way.

Don’t be fooled by the faces painted to look like skulls, or the altars full of food drink for the spirits.

This celebration of the dead comes with a dose of family, not spooks.

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Dia de los Muertos is a tradition in Mexico that is being celebrated more often in the United States. The celebration, which begins late on Oct. 31, brings families together to celebrate their departed loved ones with feasts, altars, decorations and visits to the cemetery.

Here’s a look at the two-day celebration.

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of deceased loved ones. It is believed that the gates of heaven are opened every year late on Oct. 31, and the spirits of deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours.

Nov. 2 is when the spirits of deceased adults join their families.

How did it start?

The celebration is centuries old. It was begun in Mexico and is widely celebrated there still. Dia de los Muertos is a blend of Aztec celebrations honoring the dead and Spanish Catholic beliefs.  

How is it celebrated?

The observance of Dia de los Muertos is elaborate. Altars are constructed and decorated with candles, flowers, food and drink. Toys are left for deceased children, and cigarettes and mescal, an alcoholic beverage similar to tequila, are left for deceased adults.

To finish the altar, or ofrendas, skulls made of sugar and decorated with frosting are put into place. The sugar skulls are often purchased at open-air markets.

The altars and accompanying feasts can be expensive, but celebrants sacrifice and save to put on the annual celebrations to honor their departed loved ones.  

The celebrations begin in the home, but by the afternoon of Nov.2, the festivities move to the cemetery, where family members clean graves, listen to music and talk about the dead.

In some places, there are street parties or citywide festivals.

What are sugar skulls?

Sugar skulls are made from molds and decorated with frosting. They are placed on the altars in the homes of those celebrating Dia de los Muertos. Sometimes the skulls are eaten, but more often they are used as decorations for altars.

Sugar art is believed to have been brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century.  

Where is it celebrated?

The Day of the Dead is celebrated in many Latin American countries in addition to Mexico.

When is it?    

Dia de los Muertos begins on Nov. 1 and ends on Nov. 2.

Sources: Mexican Sugar