This blog post was updated on May 15, 2020.
Celebrated around the world throughout the end of October until the first week of November, the Day of the Dead honors those who have died. In addition to remembering the departed, the occasion attempts to bring back their spirits for the day. The ritual hails from central Mexico and is often referred to as the Dia de los Muertos. Mexico honors the Day of the Dead by making November 2nd a national holiday throughout the country. For the unfamiliar or even those who think they know all about this unique holiday, here are a few things you might not know about the Day of the Dead.
Day of the Dead celebrations are positively Aztec:
Most are under the impression that Day of the Dead rituals hail from Mexico. However, what many forget is that these types of rituals have been around some 3,000 years. Day of the Dead rituals began with the Aztecs as a way to honor the dead but also bring about their spirits for the day. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in the early 1500s, they witnessed the Aztec tradition. The Day of the Dead would quickly morph with the Spanish Catholic traditions of All Souls and All Saints Day.
Skulls can actually be sweet:
The main symbols of Day of the Dead celebrations are skulls. Decorative skulls are used to adorn altars and edible varieties are even given as gifts. These skulls are traditionally made of granulated sugars that are pressed into skull molds. They are frosted and painted to give more detail to their composition. Called calvaveras de azúcar, the skulls stem from Aztec rituals when they were used to symbolize death and rebirth. It is believed the sweet skull tradition was the idea of Italian missionaries in Mexico in the 17th century.
It’s UNESCO official:
The UNESCO World Heritage list is often an indication of something grand, old and wondrous. While the list features mostly physical sites across the globe, UNESCO also boasts a List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Day of the Dead ritual was placed on that list in 2003. The list was set up to represent the traditions of expression transferred from generation to generation, making it easy to see why the 3,000 year old Day of the Dead ritual made the list.
Why all the marigolds?:
In addition to skulls, Day of the Dead celebrations can’t be without marigolds. Marigolds are used to decorate the graves of the departed loved ones. However, this isn’t just a random flower that became popular over time for the Day of the Dead. It was believed that the scent of marigolds helps guide wandering souls from their graves, back to their families and back to the afterlife again.