I admit it. I didn’t know much about Dia de los Muertos despite being Latina and living in Texas most of my life. Being Cuban and Colombian, my culture doesn’t celebrate Dia de los Muertos, which is held Nov. 1 and 2.
Dia de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, is a holiday largely celebrated in Mexico. It celebrates the lives of those who have passed on by honoring them through offerings, known in Spanish as ofrendas, placed upon an altar that contains photos, the departed’s favorite drinks and food and decorated with bright flowers, usually marigolds.
Since I grew up in Houston around a largely Mexican and Mexican-American population, I felt it was time to dive deeper into this rich cultural tradition.
There’s a lot out there about Dia de los Muertos, but here are a few surprising things you may not know:
It’s NOT Mexican Halloween
Let’s just get this one out of the way. Despite being held around the same time as Halloween, Dia de los Muertos isn’t a Latino version of the holiday. It’s actually a joyous celebration of a person’s life. In fact, death isn’t seen as a sad event. It’s seen as a welcomed part of life.
It’s not just a Mexican holiday
This one surprised me. Many cultures have their own version of Day of the Dead. Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru, to name a few, all have their version of the holiday on the same date and with similar rituals. And while we’re at it, it’s not just one day as the name implies. It’s actually held over two days, sometimes three.
Marigolds aren’t just for decoration
The use of vibrant marigold flowers are meant to guide the souls of those who departed from their burial place to their family homes. Other ways to bring departed souls back include candles, food and objects that the dead liked when they were above ground.
Children are honored Nov. 1
Nov. 1, known as Dia de los Angelitos, is dedicated to honor children and infants who have passed away. The idea is that children are eager to get back to celebrate with their families, so they hold their celebrations first thing.
UNESCO recognized Dia de los Muertos in 2008
Despite it being a holiday for roughly 3,000 years, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization proclaimed Dia de los Muertos as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2003, and officially inscribed it in 2008. UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity acknowledges cultural heritage traditions and artifacts.
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