Dia De Los Muertos–Celebrating Our Ancestors

October is the month when autumn takes over, the last warm rays of the season’s sunshine are soaked in, and we prepare for the great candy-laden holiday called Halloween. We decorate in ghosts and bats and vampires and it is all good fun. But, have you ever wondered why we have this silly celebration? After some digging, it turns out that our trick or treat extravaganza has deeply religious and ancient roots, like those of Dia De Los Muertos.
Dia De Los Muertos is a holiday that started as a day set aside to celebrate and pray for the souls of ancestors, to bless them as they continue on their spiritual journey and keep them close to watch over the family. It is a celebration where families gather in graveyards to decorate ancestral resting places and leave them offerings of their favorite foods in hopes that they will hear their prayers. In Mexico, it is a public holiday. Rather than making the rounds gathering candy, children create altars (ofrendas) to invite the angelitos, or children’s spirits, to come back for a visit. They decorate with sugar skulls (skulls, representing the departed, originally formed from a mixture containing sugar) and marigolds (bright and happy orange paper flowers) and eat Pan de Muertos (skull shaped bread).
We, in the US, will recognize the elaborately painted skulls, painted faces and scenes of skeletons playing music and dancing. To us, it may look morbid or grotesque. The real intention is quite the opposite! Deeply rooted in religious tradition, the goal is to pay respects to late loved ones, honor their lives, and acknowledge the fragility of life. What a lovely way to spend a weekend! The only similarity to our Halloween traditions is the time of year.
So, maybe this Halloween, while preparing costumes and candy bowls, take a minute to remember the members of your family who have passed. Prepare your Great Grandma’s best cookie recipe and surround a plate of them with pictures of days gone by. Maybe the souls of your ancestors can help keep you feeling safe after sunset… HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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