Hey there friends, I’m Yvonne Page Illustrates and this is Facts to Relax, the show where I research topics I find interesting and share what I learn with you. Today we’re learning all about El Día de Los Muertos with 15 facts that will teach us what the holiday is, how it’s celebrated, and why. If you want to color along with me while we learn, the picture I’m painting on my screen is available to download and print for free from the link in the description below. So now, let’s get started!
- El Día de Los Muertos can be translated to mean the “Day of the Dead” in English.
- Many communities that celebrate Día de los Muertos also celebrate Halloween. They are NOT the same holiday at all so don’t get them confused.
- Día de Los Muertos originated in ancient Mesoamerica, which included Mexico and northern Central America, and was celebrated by indigenous groups including the Aztecs, Mayans, and Toltecs. It’s believed that the holiday stems from an Aztec harvest festival that celebrated the goddess Mictecacihuatl who guarded the bones of the dead.
- Ancient Mesoamericans believed that death was a part of the journey of life and didn’t mourn their dead. They believed that new life came from death. They created celebrations to honor their dead, rather than to mourn them. For this reason, Día de Los Muertos is a joyous occasion, to this day, filled with music, dancing, and altars to honor the dead.
- These early celebrations lasted for an entire month and it wasn’t until the Spanish conquistadors arrived and combined their holidays, All Saints Day and All Souls Day with the Mesoamerican’s traditions, that el Día de Los Muertos got shortened to the 1-3 day holiday that’s celebrated now.
- Though it may vary region to region, November 1 usually honors children who have passed away and November 2 is a time to remember deceased adults. The days or weeks leading up to these two days are spent setting up altars and offerings and it’s believed the gates of heaven are opened up every year late on October 31, allowing spirits to reunite with their families for 24 hours so the celebrations often begin then.
- One of the most important aspects of the holiday are the altars or shrines called “ofrendas” that are set up. These include pictures of the deceased, items that belonged to them, and reminders of their lives. Natural elements are represented on the ofrendas as well. Water is left in a pitcher so the spirits can quench their thirst, intricately cut paper banners or “papel picado” represent wind. Food, especially bread called “pan de muerto” represents earth, and candles, representing fire and light, may be spread around la ofrenda or formed into the shape of a cross to show the spirits the direction so they can find their way. The ofrendas may be made on a single flat level or on multiple levels. The most common ones have three levels, representing heaven, earth, and the underworld. Some very elaborate ofrendas may even include up to seven levels. An ofrenda can contain photos of multiple people and even deceased pets.
- Though it may seem as though an ofrenda is set up to worship the dead, that is not the case. Mexico is a strongly Catholic country so though the ofrendas honor the dead, only God is worshipped in their culture.
- Sugar skulls, called Calaveritas de Azúcar, are left on altars along with toys for children who have passed. They are not meant to be morbid or dark in the way skulls are seen on Halloween, and are often brightly decorated. These sugar skulls are made from molds and decorated with frosting, sequins, colored foil, beads, glitter, feathers, and more. They aren’t meant to be eaten despite being made of sugar.
- Marigolds are an important part of el Día de Los Muertos celebrations, stemming all the way back to the Aztecs’ use of them. These vibrant yellow and orange flowers have healing properties and represent the fragility of life, and their bright colors and pungent scent on altars guide spirits. Paper marigolds are also often made using tissue paper.
- Though celebrations begin at home, by the last afternoon, people go to church for mass and then move to cemeteries where family members listen to music and talk about the dead while cleaning graves. Candles are lit and offerings are made.
- Some communities have town-wide Día de los Muertos festivals with parades and dancing.
- Popular Día de los Muertos dances are “La Danza de los Viejitos” or “the Dance of the Little Old Men” where boys and young men dress up as old men, walking around crouched over until they jump up in an energetic dance. Another is “La Danza de los Tecuanes” or “The Dance of the Jaguars” which mimics what it would look like if farm workers were hunting a jaguar. Video examples of each of these can be found in the description below.
- In anticipation of the release of its movie Coco, in 2013 the Walt Disney Company filed numerous applications to trademark el Día de Los Muertos, which would give them exclusive use to the name and more. Essentially, this would have given them ownership over a holiday that was very much not theirs to own and after much backlash, Disney withdrew its applications.
- Finally, if you aren’t from a culture that celebrates el Día de los Muertos but want to partake in the festivities, it’s important to take the time to learn about the holiday and respect the meaning behind it and the people who traditionally celebrate it. Don’t just paint a skull on your face so you can post a picture on social media. This is a rich holiday filled with meaning for those who celebrate it, so cherry-picking the parts that you think are cool while leaving the deeper meaning of the holiday out is disrespectful to the people who really celebrate it. Instead, visit museums, read articles, watch videos, and learn as much as you can about El Día de Los Muertos so you can fully appreciate the holiday. I have links to many sites and books in the description below that you can start with. If you buy things related to el Día de los Muertos, try to make sure you’re purchasing products that are made by Latino artisans or that contribute to the Latino community.
Okay there we have it- 15 facts about el Día de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. Hopefully this video has helped you learn as much as I have and if so, please give it a thumbs up and share with anyone you think might want to learn more about this holiday. If you’d like to learn more interesting things with me in the future while we color and chill, please subscribe and check back often. Thanks for being here with me today, bye!
❁❁ SOURCES & RESOURCES ❁❁
- Making Sugar skulls: https://vimeo.com/52758523
- Pan de Muerto recipe: https://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/wprm_print/3006
- La Danza de los Viejitos
- La Danza de los Tecuanes