Despite its macabre name, día de los muertos or day of the dead is about celebrating. On the 1st and 2nd of November the life of family members and friends that have passed away is remembered. To honour the dead, graves are colourfully decorated with offerings or ofrendas at home or in public places and altars are created. Flowers, food and drinks are placed for decoration, and even music is played to honour the dead, and most importantly to encourage their souls to visit the earth.
Día de los muertos is especially an important festival in Mexico where it originated. Although in other Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Ecuador or Brazil similar celebrations take place. In Mexico every region has its own traditions, but in most regions the 1st of November is the day the spirits of the angelitos, the children, visit the earth. The 2nd of November is when deceased adults are honoured.
The aim of the decorations and the music is to encourage visits by the souls of deceased friends and family so they can hear the stories, prayers, and comments made by their loved ones at earth. For children toys and candies are put as ofrenda to encourage their spirits to visit, and for adult spirits it’s common to find alcoholic beverages like mezcal or tequila placed as ofrenda or their favourite music will be played at their grave.
Besides a collection of the deceased’s favourite things, there are some typical decorations used for día de los muertos. Calaveras or skulls appear everywhere and are often portrayed as enjoying life. The most famous calavera is Catrina, the lady of the death. Also candy skulls or sweet bread pan de muertos are added to altars. This bread can either be plain round, but often it represents a skull or is decorated with icing to make it look like a bone. Finally, orange or yellow Mexican marigold flowers are included in offerings as it is believed the scent helps bring the loved ones home.
In the end, the idea behind día de los muertos is that dead is part of the cycle of life. And what better way is there than celebrating it in a joyous way?