The popularity of the 2017 Disney-Pixar film, “Coco,” introduced millions of children around the world to Day of the Dead a.k.a Día de los Muertos.
Like the movie, the Mexican celebration includes colorful costumes, decorations, and delectable offerings. There are many light-hearted moments in “Coco,” which mirrors the funny stories shared about death that are part of the holiday. The movie also has some serious overtones about family, also very important in Day of the Dead celebrations.
Day of the Dead aims to honor those who have passed with food, libations, dancing, singing and other activities that those being celebrated enjoyed in their lives. To be sorrowful would be an insult to the dead, it is believed, because it is at this time that the spirits of the dead return and would prefer it to be a joyful time.
Day of the Dead is a little misleading, as the celebration is actually three days, beginning on October 31 — though some families get the party started even sooner than that! The first day is an opportunity for preparation, with gravesites being cleaned, new flowers laid, offerings prepped and food prepared.
Staying the night in cemeteries at the graves of loved ones is common practice during Day of the Dead celebrations, and having a comfortable place for the spirits of the dead to rest on is also a practice — so bring an extra pillow if you plan to participate.
Some of the common symbols or offerings seen during Day of the Dead celebrations include:
- Sugar skulls: These are representations of the dead and it is believed that can be absorbed by spirits during Day of the Dead.
- Marigold flowers: These aromatic beauties are used to attract the souls of the dead.
- Xoloitzcuintli: These are dog-shaped statues that are left to help guide spirits back to Heaven when the celebrating has ceased.
- Pan de muerto (bread of the dead): This and the dead’s other favorite foods are left as offerings.
- Razors, bowls: These are used for spirits to clean themselves for the journey back.
- Other items used as offerings include toys, pumpkins, cigarettes/cigars and alcohol.
November 1 is known as All Saints Day the world over, but it is also known as Dio de los Inocentes or Dio de los Angelitos, a time to honor recently departed children.
A huge event prior to official Day of the Dead celebrations will take place at Church in New York City. Mano a Mano will take place Friday, Oct. 26 through Sunday, Oct. 28.
Not seen as a morbid time at all, Day of the Dead is a time for families and friends to convene to honor the dead, celebrate their lives and reflect on the time when they all will be reunited in the spirit world.