Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)Estate Planning
During this traditional Mexican holiday, families celebrate their dearly departed and welcome their souls back for a reunion.
The weather is cooling down, the leaves are falling, and the holiday season is on the horizon. During this time of year, we celebrate holidays that compel us to take the time to appreciate our loved ones. One holiday growing in popularity is Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which despite its name, is a colorful celebration of life.
What is Día de los Muertos?
Día de los Muertos has been celebrated for thousands of years ago by indigenous peoples like the Aztecs and the Toltecs. Ancient Mexicans viewed death as another chapter of someone’s life, rather than the end, and celebrated the lives of their dearly departed.
Today, Día de los Muertos is celebrated around the world from October 31 through November 2. According to tradition, the gates of heaven open and families welcome the souls of their deceased relatives for 24 hours to feast, dance, and enjoy music. Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life, rather than death.
Families will typically clean and decorate their loved ones’ graves, building traditional ofrendas, or altars. These altars are decorated with bright flowers, particularly marigolds, candles, and each person’s favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and other memorabilia. Some families build ofrendas, or small shrines, in their homes or other public places.
The holiday also shares some common roots with Halloween, but is nevertheless a distinctly separate holiday, rather than “Mexican Halloween,” as is sometimes assumed.
Symbols of Día de los Muertos
Many prominent symbols of Día de los Muertos have become recognizable outside of the holiday.
Marigolds are the traditional flower of the holiday. It is believed that the bright, strongly scented flower will help guide the souls to their family homes.
Spicy hot chocolate and a corn-based drink called atole are popular drinks. Popular foods include tamales, pan de muerto, a sweet roll topped with sugar and decorated, and calavera sugar skulls.
Calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons) are common symbols as well. José Guadalupe Posada’s zinc etching La Calavera Catrina, ‘the Elegant Skull,’ has become an icon of the holiday. The catrina is a popular costume during celebrations and typically features sugar skull make-up.
Día de los Muertos in Popular Culture
Interest in Día de los Muertos has grown rapidly in the last several years. The holiday was notably featured in both the 2014 film The Book of Life and Disney’s Coco (2014). A scene in the 2015 James Bond Spectre film included an elaborate Día de los Muertos parade in downtown Mexico City.
The Biden-Harris Administration celebrated Día de los Muertos in 2021, with an offering located in the White House for the first time.
Death affects us all, especially in these last few years. Whether or not you and your family celebrate Día de los Muertos, the holiday serves as an important reminder to cherish those who are still with us and honor those who are not. Day of the Dead traditions invite us to reconsider both how we view death and how we honor the memory of our loved ones.
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