Observance in Mexico
– Origins –
The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to a pre-Columbian past. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors had been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500–3,000 years.
In the pre-Hispanic era skulls were commonly kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.
The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead”, corresponding to the modern Catrina.
In most regions of Mexico November 1 is to honor children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2.
This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 mainly as Día de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”) but also as Día de los Angelitos (“Day of the Little Angels”) and November 2 as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos (“Day of the Dead”).
– Beliefs –
On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit.
November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives.
The three-day fiesta filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.
People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them.
Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.