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The History Of Día de los Muertos

Culture & Community By O. DELGADO
The History Of Día de los Muertos

Nope, it's not Mexican Halloween, it's a celebration of life.

Día de los Muertos celebrates the lives of our departed loved ones, and the new life that comes from death. 

It helps us recognize that death is just the next step in life's journey, and that no one really dies as long as they live on in our memories. 

Día de los Muertos originated 5,000 years ago in the cultures of the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America, including the Aztec, Maya and Toltec.

The Aztecs believed that the souls of their ancestors went to an underworld called Mictlān, where they were protected by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the "Lady of the Dead", who used the bones of the dead to make new life.

Once a year, she would arise to visit the living, bringing the souls of their ancestors with her.

Aztecs believed it was offensive to mourn the dead.  Instead, they celebrated life.

During Mictecacihuatl's visit in August, they held a month-long celebration in honor of the goddess and their ancestors, with music, dances, and ofrendas.

When the Catholic Spanish conquered the Aztecs, they combined indigenous spiritual beliefs with Catholic observances.  So, instead of a month-long festival in August, we now celebrate on November 1 & 2, Catholic "All Saints Day" and "All Souls' Day".

The tradition lives on. 

Día de los Muertos continues to be a celebration of life. 

We place pictures of our loved ones and their favorite things on the altar, honoring them, celebrating the lives they led, and calling them back to us.

Like our indigenous ancestors, we make ofrendas, offerings, to the spirits who are returning to visit us on these special days.

Ofrendas traditionally include each the four elements:

Water - represented by a glass or pitcher of water, so spirits can quench their thirst

Wind - represented by papel picado

Earth - represented by food, especially pan de muerto and fruit 

Fire - represented by candles, sometimes in the form of a cross to represent the cardinal directions, so the spirits can find their way

Altars also include things the person loved in life. 

So in addition to a glass of water, your altar might include a shot of tequila, a bottle of cerveza, or a can of coke.  Instead of pan de muerto, you might have a tamale or a bag of Doritos.

We decorate graves and altars with Aztec marigold, so that the vibrant color and smell will guide the spirits back to our world.

Altars can be incredibly elaborate...

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Or beautifully simple...


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Les presento a mi abuelo nwn. #diademuertos #diadelosmuertos #Mexico #mexicolindo #diadetodoslossantos #altar #altardemuertos #sempasuchil

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And we continue to celebrate with music and dancing... 



Including the traditional danza de los viejitos.


Día de los Muertos helps us recognize that as long as we keep them alive in our memories, our loved ones never truly die.

May generations ahead continue to celebrate this beautiful tradition long after we've taken that next step into "el más allá."