Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican tradition and holiday that is well-known across the world. The day aims to celebrate loved ones who have passed away, with specific traditions and festivities. Essentially, the goal of the Day of the Dead is to celebrate loved ones in a happy way rather than being mournful and sad.
Although Day of the Dead is mostly associated with Mexico, it’s actually celebrated in many areas of Latin America and even in Western Society. However, Day of the Dead’s presence is undoubtedly stronger in the country of its origin, Mexico, and especially in southern Mexico. It has also become widely known across the world and represented in media. However, what many people are not aware of is the long-standing and intriguing history behind the Day of the Dead. The holiday and its related traditions are actually full of interesting history, philosophies, and influence from indigenous cultures. The Day of the Dead is one of the world’s most interesting holidays, and it has pervaded many corners of the world. Nowadays, Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd all across Mexico and anywhere in the world where there is a strong Latin American presence.
There is so much variety, tradition, and history involved in the Day of the Dead. Keep reading to find out about the vital ways that the Day of the Dead has developed through the years and become an integral part of so many different cultures.
10The Day Is Recognized by UNESCO
Because of the Day of the Dead’s important presence and popularity across the world, UNESCO has even recognized the holiday officially. UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists is a list of important elements of world culture that are intangible. Since these cultural elements may not have physical ways of preservation, they are placed on this list to ensure that their importance is always remembered. UNESCO’s list was originally created in 2008, and Day of the Dead was added directly at this time. Another important goal of this list is to raise awareness and provide recognition for traditions that promote diversity in different cultures.
In total, there are now 337 things on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. 132 items are from Asia, 27 from Africa, 55 from Eastern Europe, 48 from Latin America, 19 from Europe and North America, as well as 19 from the Arab States. The list also identifies cultural practices or traditions that are in urgent need of safeguarding. The presence of Day of the Dead on this list clearly proves just how unique and important the tradition really is to the world.
Day of the Dead isn’t the only tradition from Mexico that has made its way onto the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Other interesting traditions include the ritual ceremony of the Voladores, Mexican cuisine, the traditional feast of Chiapa de Corzo, the equestrian tradition of Charreria, and many musical traditions like Mariachi and Pirekua. The list is full of interesting and important traditions that have been present in Mexican culture and even started to influence other places in the world.
9It Has Slowly Changed to Coincide with Western Culture
The modern Day of the Dead is actually an interesting combination of both indigenous and Aztec cultures as well as Christian culture and influence. As the tradition developed and was influenced by colonialism, aspects of both cultures became intertwined in the Day of the Dead holiday. No matter what happened and what changed about the holiday, it simply became stronger and more popular rather than losing steam.
Day of the Dead was originally celebrated during the beginning of summer, but nowadays it is celebrated for the first few days of November. The reason for this change in dates was that Day of the Dead began to be intertwined with Christianity and Christian traditions. All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Halloween are all celebrated around fall, so the Day of the Dead was moved to November to merge with these days as well.
All Saints Day is currently celebrated every November 1st as well, and this day is dedicated to celebrating all of the saints. Many branches and churched of Christianity celebrated All Saints Day. This day is also called All Hallows’ Eve and may have influenced what is now modern-day Halloween. All Souls Day is another similar Christian holiday, which takes place directly after All Saints Day. It is a celebration of all deceased Christian souls and celebrated yearly on November 2nd. The two days of Day of the Dead coincide perfectly with these two Christian celebrations because of the relations and merging between the indigenous and Christian traditions.
8It Involves Several Interesting Traditions
Day of the Dead is characterized by a number of different traditions. On each day of the celebration, people in Mexico and in Latin America perform different types of ceremonies and spend the day celebrating their deceased friends and family. Day of the Dead believed that being mournful and sad would not make the deceased happy, so it takes the celebration in a different direction, aiming to have a happy and lively celebration.
There are so many different ways that communities and families celebrate Day of the Dead. In essence, the traditions include food, drinks, and parties where everyone comes together to think about the dead. Altars, or ofrendas, are a significant part of Day of the Dead celebrations. People visit cemeteries or build special altars to their deceased loved ones and adorn them with offerings, photos, and other specific memorabilia. Sometimes, poems and letters are given to the dead in order to communicate with them and so that the souls can hear their prayers. This is usually quite lighthearted, often including funny stories and anecdotes about the person.
Marigolds are a flower commonly used to honor the dead, so many altars are covered in marigolds and other colorful flowers to celebrate the deceased. During the Day of the Dead, families usually clean and decorate the graves of their passed loved ones. Many of these offerings are often placed in peoples’ homes, as a sign of invitation to the dead souls to join them in celebration and rest from their spiritual journey.
7It Dates All the Way Back to Aztec Culture
Day of the Dead is around 2,000 or 3,000 years old, originating in southern Mexico in indigenous Mesoamerican communities. Aztecs are believed to be the first people to develop and celebrate Day of the Dead. The Aztec Empire was one of the biggest cultures of Mesoamerica, ruling much of modern-day Mexico until Spain colonialists arrived around the beginning of the 1400s. Celebration of death and dead loved ones has been taking place in indigenous communities and empires for hundreds of years.
In the Aztec empire, there were already many rituals that existed to remember the dead. Many people even began to save skulls of the dead to display and symbolize birth and rebirth during their rituals. The Aztecs used an Aztec Solar Calendar, and Day of the Dead was celebrated during the ninth month of this calendar. On our modern-day calendars, this would have been around the beginning of August. Rather than just a day or two, Day of the Dead was actually dedicated to an entire month of the calendar. Often, families and communities planned the celebrations in advance, considering ways to celebrate their dead during the entire year.
Aztec culture is one of the most interesting cultures and used to be one of the most powerful, by far. This culture has pervaded many different countries and had an impact on different traditions around the world. In Mexico, much of the cuisine can date back to the Aztec empire. The Aztecs began to domesticate crops and raise animals for food, such as turkeys and even dogs.
6It Didn’t Reach Northern Mexico Until Later
What is now northern Mexico used to be a region inhabited by different Northern American indigenous cultures. This area was untouched by Aztec influence and didn’t even find out about the Day of the Dead until much later, in the 20th century. Once modern Mexico was unified, the government actually made the Day of the Dead a national holiday. While we now view Mexico as one country with all of the same traditions and history, the truth is that there are many differences in different regions of Mexico.
Different empires and indigenous people lived in different parts of what is now Mexico. In the case of the Day of the Dead, it was not celebrated or even heard of in the north of Mexico until the 20th century. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the 16th century, the tradition began to spread upwards and change significantly. However, because northern Mexico’s indigenous people already had many of their own traditions, it did not really arrive there for quite some time. It was simultaneously rejected by the Christian people and the other indigenous people, so it took a while for the Day of the Dead to truly be celebrated all across the country.
Historians note that the northern region of Mexico was not affected or influenced very strongly by Mesoamerican cultures that had a stronghold on the southern areas of the country. Finally, in the 1960s, the government classified the Day of the Dead as a national tradition and it became the holiday that we know and love today.
5It Was Historically Dedicated to a Goddess
In Aztec culture, the Day of the Dead was dedicated to a goddess of death called Lady of the Dead. In modern art and representation, the Lady of the Dead is called La Calavera Catrina, an elegant skeleton who is often portrayed with a large flowery hat on her head. This goddess is also sometimes called Mictecacihuatl, and she was said to preside over all of the celebrations of Day of the Dead.
Aztec mythology has a very rich and interesting history, including a wide array of gods and goddesses that the people prayed to and worshipped. The goddess of the dead, or the Lady of the Dead, Mictecacihuatl, was said to be the Queen of Mictlan. Mictian is what the Aztecs called the underworld, and it was ruled by Mictecacihuatl and her husband. The role of Mictecacihuatl was to preside over festivals of the dead and watch over the bones of the dead.
There were many different deities and gods in Aztec mythology, each dedicated to different things and aspects of life. The Aztecs believed that the world was created by five creator gods. These gods were called Huitzilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, and Xipe Totec. Huitzilopochtli is a god of war, sun, and human sacrifice. Quetzalcoatl is a god of wind and wisdom, Tezcatlipoca a god of the night sky and hurricanes, and Tlacoc a god of earthly fertility and water. Xipe Totec is a deity of life, death, and rebirth, presiding over the seasons as well as agriculture.
4There Are Two Separate Days of Celebration
Today, Day of the Dead is celebrated on both November 1st and November 2nd. However, each day is dedicated to a different objective. November 1st is meant to celebrate infants or children who have passed away. It’s often called Dia de Los Inocentes or Dia de Los Angelitos- Day of the Innocents and Day of the Little Angels in English, respectively. In the Day of the Dead mythology, the souls and spirits of deceased children and babies arrive first, on the 1st of November. The next day, it is said that the souls of the deceased adults arrive, on the 2nd of the month.
While the name of the holiday references only a single day, the truth is that the Day of the Dead is so much more. It is celebrated in vigor during the first two days, but it is also a hugely important part of many cultures during the entire year. Day of the Dead used to be celebrated during the entire ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar, but now it is often prepared for during the month of September and throughout the year. As people miss their loved ones and lose people throughout the year, the Day of the Dead is something to look forward to and wait for in order to communicate with their souls. Some people even believe that the Day of the Dead is simply in place symbolically, to remember the importance of death and dead loved ones and that the dead visit Earth every day.
3Day of the Dead Varies from Place to Place
Because Day of the Dead has such a long-standing and widespread history, it is celebrated in a wide array of different places and in different ways. Although central and southern Mexico is considered to be the home of the holiday, it’s also celebrated very strongly in many other Latin American communities. Individual people or families may celebrate the Day of the Dead, but there are some places where it is celebrated most strongly and commonly. Of course, central and southern Mexico is the main and original places where the Day of the Dead is celebrated. Because other indigenous tribes like the Mayans had similar beliefs, many areas in the Americas also have a strong belief in the Day of the Dead.
In Belize, Day of the Dead is practiced strongly, especially by people who are of Mayan descent. In this language, the celebration is often called Hanal Pixan, which literally translated to “food for the souls.” Brazil also has its own form of Day of the Dead, called Finados, which is also celebrated on November 2nd. In Guatemala, Day of the Dead is celebrated by building and flying kites. The kites are viewed as a way to communicate with the spirits of the dead and help them come back to Earth for the day. Day of the Dead is also celebrated in many major cities across the world, often promoted by Mexican embassies. There are many cities in the United States, Europe, and Australia that hold public Day of the Dead celebrations.
2It has an Interesting Philosophy About Death
Day of the Dead is focused on an interesting and uplifting philosophy about death. The goal of the day is to offer a more positive view of death and the loss of loved ones. Rather than treating death as the ending of something, many Latin American cultures view it as the continuation of eternal life. Death is viewed in these cultures as something that should not be feared. Day of the Dead focuses on the beautiful continuation of the human experience, of which death is just a normal part of.
Day of the Dead is considered to be an important thing for young children to celebrate and learn about. The goal of these celebrations and this holiday, in general, is to celebrate life. The Aztec cultures believed strongly in the circle of life and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. They also believed that being free and living a good life necessitated freedom from the fear of death. By celebrating the Day of the Dead and treating death lightly and joyfully, children were able to learn to appreciate their lives and not fear the end.
Another key philosophy of the Day of the Dead is to look death in the face and not hide away from it. Mexican and Aztec cultures are well-known for not hiding from death or treating it as something to be hidden away from feared at all. By laughing, remembering, and celebrating deceased loved ones, death is treated as another beautiful part of life.
1Day of the Dead Used to Be Viewed as Sacrilegious
Because of Day of the Dead’s interesting views about death, it was, at first, viewed as sacrilegious by the Spanish conquerors who arrived in Mexico. Spanish colonialists arrived in Mexico around the mid-1400s. At this time, modern-day Mexico was ruled by the Aztec Empire. When the Spaniards learned about Day of the Dead, they believed it to be sacrilegious since they were primarily Catholic and Christian. Day of the Dead has open and accepting philosophies of death, very different from the Christian views of death and the afterlife. At first, the Spaniards strongly rejected the Day of the Dead and viewed it as a Pagan and sacrilegious celebration.
Many celebrations from ancient cultures have been changed and influenced by Western and Christian sources. That’s why the date of the Day of the Dead was changed to coincide with the Christian holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. These two holidays were even descended from old Celtic celebrations that were also considered to be Pagan. The ancient celebrations of Samhain were another form of celebrating the dead but was changed to a more Christianity-focused holiday and is now often remembered by Halloween on October 31st.
The Day of the Dead is another clear example of the ways that different cultures, religions, and nations are able to come together and intertwine their customs and histories. What began as an Aztec tradition has truly developed into something that is celebrated almost worldwide and includes elements of many different cultures and religions.
The Day of the Dead is a beautiful and historic day of celebration, originating in Mexico and slowly spreading in popularity across the world. Nowadays, Day of the Dead is celebrated in many different ways and with many different traditions in communities across Latin America and the world. Each and every November, the beginning of the month is marked by this beautiful celebration of the connection between life and death. This offers the chance for people and communities to come together and remember the beauty of life. It also promotes a healthy and more positive image of death and loss.
Although Day of the Dead may sound like a morbid or negative holiday, it really is meant to be celebrated joyfully and with a focus on the positive aspects of life. Day of the Dead puts a lighter perspective on death, rather than focusing on evil spirits or being fearful of the deceased. It’s full of fun traditions like sugar skulls, meals made for the dead, and parties held in cemeteries to spend time with the deceased. Altogether, Day of the Dead is a lighthearted and fun celebration that is meant to promote a healthy view of life and a time to come together in community.
The celebrations are made primarily in Mexico, but also in Latin American communities across the world. Other cultures even have similar celebrations meant to address death. Day of the Dead has become a combination of both Christian and indigenous influences to create the modern-day holiday that is known and beloved in so many places.