Día de los muertos, or Day of the Dead, has its own beautiful set of rituals and traditions. It’s a colorful celebration of life to remember loved ones. Did you know that every popular aspect of Day of the Dead is a symbol to represent a view about the afterlife? We’ll give you a crash course and give you an overview on this famous holiday.
Overview of Día de los muertos
First thing’s first- Day of the Dead is not Halloween. They are completely different holidays with different origins, and celebrate different things. Día de los muertos comes from Aztec traditions that have developed and evolved over time.
Day of the Dead is celebrated over two days, November 1 and 2, and the way each family celebrates is personal. However, there are some similarities in common symbols, and we’ll explain them here!
The ofrenda, or alter, for día de los muertos
Central to the holiday is the ofrenda, or in English, the alter. This is where families honor those who have passed by including their photo and things they enjoyed. This could be their favorite foods or favorite possessions. In addition, there are some symbols that nearly every alter includes, and it’s represented by the 4 elements:
This element is usually represented with a glass or pitcher of water. This way, spirits can quench their thirst. It’s a long journey back from the afterlife!
To represent Earth, there are lots of different foods that families traditionally put out, in addition to their loved ones’ favorite foods. For example, you’ll often find the special bread pan de muerto on alters all throughout Mexico. It’s a sweet, soft bread that looks like it has bones on top. You might also find mole, a delicious sauce that’s used in lots of different dishes.
Alters are often lit up with beautiful candles. The hope is that the deceased will be able to find their way to their family’s alter. You might also see them in the shape of a cross to represent North, South, East and West.
You might be thinking, “How can you see air?” Although you can’t see the air itself, you can see the effects of the wind. Brightly colored paper cut into beautiful patterns called papel picado dances in the breeze, and it represents this fourth and final element.
Finally, remember that Day of the Dead is a time to celebrate, not a time to be afraid. Families dance and sing and remember the good times they had with their loved ones. On this holiday, participants remember that death is a natural part of life.