Similar to an American Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is a
festive celebration which survives from the early days
When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, the festival was incorporated into the Catholic All Souls Day and All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1 and November 2.
In ancient Mexico, rituals celebrating the lives of dead ancestors had been performed by Mesoamerican civilizations for at least 3,000 years.
Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the "Lady of the Dead". It was common practice to skulls as trophies and display them during rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. The festival began in early August and was celebrated for the entire month.
tradition that lives on is a recipe
for sugar skulls, which are brightly decorated and served
up by Day of the Dead devotees and party hosts with ghoulish
glee. Today, local bakeries also feature special breads and cakes in playful shapes of skulls to serve as holiday treats.
Pan de Muerto or "Bread of the Dead", is sold in
Mexican bakeries to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
The celebratory atmosphere is in stark contrast to the serious custom of honoring relatives and loved ones who have passed on, with traditions that include building home altars to honor the dead.
The souls of children are believed to return first on November 1, with adult spirits following on November 2.
Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods that will be offered to the dead. During the period of October 31 and November 2 families usually clean and decorate the graves.
Offerings are made of the customary Pan de Muerto, a sweet cake, and sprays of bright orange cempasúchil (a type of marigold) may adorn altars and tombs. Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels) and bottles of tequila or mezcal for adults.
Just up ahead, check
out more traditions old and new online - as Dia de los Muertos
comes alive and kicking in outstanding
photo galleries, folk art exhibits, e-cards, video clips,
history, craft ideas, recipes and trivia...
for the Ancestors - The late, great, but still-archived
PBS special with a good history of the observance including
a folk art gallery, information and photos on the current
festival, video clips, and recipes for pozole, (pigs
head and corn grits) salsa borracha (drunken sauce)
and salsa de gusanos de maguey (worm sauce).
Day of the Dead - Dia
de los Muertos - Day of the Dead central, including
an extensive cache of articles and photo essays on the altar
to the dead, candlelight vigils, gravesite ceremonies, folk
art, activities and traditions.
Day of the Dead Holiday - A good overview heading
into feature stories chronicling the history and traditions
of Dia de los Muertos, where to find the best locations for
authentic ceremonies, a special report from Oaxaca, and related