October 31, 2016 by Miller Funeral & Cremation Services Staff
From candy skulls and costumed processions, to candlelit vigils in local cemeteries, El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, offers a way for family and friends to honor the spirits of those who have departed this life.
Born from pre-Columbian times, El Día de los Muertos combines pre-Aztec ritual with post-Conquistador Catholicism, and has been celebrated in Mexico and various South American cultures for centuries. Recently, however, Día de los Muertos has grown in popularity throughout Texas and the Southwestern United States, and has begun to infiltrate the popular culture surrounding Halloween. People from all backgrounds and ethnicities are embracing the idea of a colorful, spirited, and positive way to honor the lives of those who have gone before us.
Celebrating Life On El Día De Los Muertos
During the festival, celebrants gather at a central meeting point as night falls on November 1. Once assembled, they proceed to tell stories, play music, and entertain the souls of the departed in a procession that leads to the local cemetery.
At the graves of their ancestors, offerings are given in the forms of favorite foods, belongings and clothes, and even indulgences like cigars and tequila. Graves are cleaned and often adorned with bright orange and yellow marigolds – a tradition which was used by the Aztecs for rites associated with burials. It is still believed that these colors are associated with the earth, and therefore draw the spirits back to homes, grave sites, and altars.
As the popularity of El Día de los Muertos grows, modern interpretations and decorations have changed considerably. Often you will find artistic designs that celebrate the lives of famous individuals, popular writers, and screen actors alongside altars which honor a favorite uncle or one’s parents. And, just as diverse as those being celebrated, are offerings of food and mementoes not typically found in a traditional Mexican market.
Cities across America are embracing this all-night event with their own processions and gatherings. Día de los Muertos is often even celebrated in many museums and galleries, where some of the best known Latin American artists, whose work embodied elements of this cultural expression, are on display.
Altars As Tributes
For those unable to be present at the grave sites of their deceased loved ones, altars in the home or garden are often used as a symbolic substitute. The purpose of the altar is to display favorite images of the departed, as well as the symbols and possessions associated with them.
Altars also serve as a means to provide ofrendas or offerings to the deceased. These offerings, similar to those found at gravesites, are used to entice the spirits of the dead to return to Earth during this celebration and be near those who love them.
No matter how one chooses to honor the life of those who have passed before us, El Día de los Muertos is a fascinating holiday and opportunity to express the true zest and beauty of all that life has to offer. Because all of us are touched by loss in our lifetime, this holiday continues to attract new celebrants as we move away from a more somber take on mourning and embrace those memories and experiences of those we love in a grand celebration of life.