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MAIN Arrow to Home Life - Holidays Holidays Arrow to Dia de los Muertos Dia de los Muertos - Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead!Similar to an American Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is a festive celebration which survives from the early days of pre-Christianity.

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.

One particular 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 muertos for day of the dead
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...

also see -> Cinco de Mayo | Las Posadas | Mexican Independence Day

More about Dia de los Muertos around the Web: | Day of the Dead - Dia de los Muertos - No bones about it, the best resource on the topic with hours of online fun featuring how-to videos, crafts, history and traditions, recipes, random trivia, a photo gallery and student-teacher resources.

Food 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).

Mexican 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.

MEXonline: 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 links.

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