In honor of the Day of the Dead, we're reproducing the following post
that was originally published in 2009 by guest writer Bronson Pettitt.
In Mexico and in Mexican expat communities, November 1st and 2nd mark "Día de Muertos," or Day of the Dead. The two days are a chance for families to remember their lost ones, combining ancient Aztec, Mayan, Náhuatl, Purépecha and Totonocao traditions with Spanish Christianity.
In the days prior, many Mexicans put up an altar in their house. Usually adorned with flowers (cempasúchil, or marigolds), a candle for and photo of each loved one, sugar or chocolate skulls, fruits, the sugary "bread of the dead" (pan de muerto), pumpkins, candied squash, religious symbols and paper decorations, the altar is said to be an offering for the departed.
On the first day of celebrations, families that have lost children will go to the graves where they are buried, clean and paint the site and spend the night telling anecdotes and stories. Usually, they leave toys at the grave.
The second day commemorates adults who have passed away and the tradition is similar to that of children, but it is common to take to the grave typical Mexican drinks such as tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole.
What´s uniquely Mexican about these days is the attitude. Ancient indigenous views took a more natural view toward death: the spirit of the departed was determined more by the way the person died rather than their behavior during their time on earth. Death was an accepted, not feared, part of life. These perspectives, with infusions of Christianiaty, are present today, not only on Día de Muertos but in Mexican culture in general.
Día de Muertos traditions, which coincide with All Saints' and All Souls' days and have similar variants in Latin America, are especially prominent in southern and central Mexico. Each region has its respective adaptations, and the customs can vary from town to town. Even in the sprawling Mexico City metropolis, the tradition is strong.