Día de los Muertos
As with many of our holidays, Día de los Muertos has changed with the introduction of Christianity and Catholicism. Originally a month-long ritual, Aztecs took this time to celebrate death and life as a cycle. Skulls were common trophies found during this ritual, symbolic of this cycle. People held a belief that our waking world is like a dream, and that death brought on a sort of “wake up call” to the real deal.
With its strange imagery, which might have seemed morbid, the Spanish demonized the celebration when they colonized and overtook the region. They shortened the ritual and moved the actual dates to share in All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, turning it into a “Christianized” holiday. However, to this day, that has not kept it from being one of the more spiritual and loved holidays in modern times.
So what can you do to celebrate the Day of the Dead? Here are a few traditions:
1. Get a Place.
To start, you need a place to celebrate. While tradition leads to the graveyard where your relatives are buried, here in the U.S. (and many other countries) one does not simply enter a cemetery and have a party. Legally, that is. *Cough* So check with your local laws and such. If the graveyard is not accessible, many people will build an altar in home in honor of their dead.
2. Spirits, Distilled and Otherwise (21+ Only!).
Alcoholic drinks are a prime tradition on this holiday. Of course, don’t forget to leave a bottle of tequila or a few shots of your favorite liquor out for your ancestors, too. These are for your older dead relatives, of course…for the children, leave some toys!
3. Tell Funny Ghost Stories and Tales of the Glories…
No, that isn’t how the song goes, but it is the tradition. The Day of the Dead is not a somber holiday by any means, and while 24 hours earlier we were trying to scare each other speechless on Halloween Night, the Day of the Dead is about remembering your dead and celebrating their lives. This means telling fond memories and anecdotes, often funny ones.
4. Eat ALL the Candy!
Indeed! Didn’t get a cavity from Halloween? Here’s another chance! If you are at all familiar with Día de los Muertos, you know the imagery of the skull. These vibrant symbols of life and death (called calavera) are worn as masks and, more recently, made as candy. Celebrators will collect these treats (trick-or-treating seconds, we say), picking the ones that catch their eye, resemble their own faces a little, and/or bear their name across the forehead.
5. Have a Picnic
So this one goes back to number one, if you can visit the gravesite. People go in groups to the cemetery for this part. Here they bring marigolds (a flower traditionally associated with the holiday, and is one of @DCMcGannon‘s favorite flowers, btw…), weed the grass and make sure the tombstones of their relatives are tended too, play card games, and spend the day playing games, eating food, and remembering their loved ones. Compared to many of our more commercialized holidays, there’s a note of sincerity that is powerful in this particular tradition.
So get’chy’on out there. Go celebrate life and consider what is beyond this life. Remember to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before you, the ones you have coming behind you, and take a look around…there are a many reasons right in front of you to celebrate this, and every day.
Note: In terms of sincerity, celebration, lush and beautiful art and adornment, this festival is one of The Monster Guys’ favorite to simply look at and observe. It is our opinion that it is hard to find a more visually appealing holiday.
Extra: A Recipe for Making Sugar Skulls (Calavera)! We have not attempted this recipe, but it is one of many you can find. Search and find one that fits your needs. Another recipe notes that you should not purchase the meringue from hobby stores as it is diluted and will not stick, so keep that in mind while you are creating. Let us know and share pics if you make these. We’d love to see them and will feature them!