|Photo by Uteart|
Día de los Muertos is a very old Mexican tradition when people take the time to remember family members and friends who have died. Today, it is traditionally celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.
Because it is colorful and joyful, it is now celebrated by more and more people around the world.
In Mexico, it is mostly celebrated in the rural areas - or countryside, towns, and villages - by indigenous people. Indigenous means those people who have lived there a very long time. Each of the towns or regions may celebrate the day in a slightly different way. For example, some towns may celebrate the day by going to the cemetery and preparing a feast at the gravesite of a relative on the eve of Nov. 2. And the custom of altar-building may differ from one state to another.
Some of the native people in Mexico believe that the souls of their family and friends first gather at major archaeological sites, such as the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City or Monte Alban in Oaxaca. They then find their way back home by the church bells in their hometowns or by following trails of marigolds, or cempasúchiles.
Mexicans begin to get ready for the holiday about a week before Nov. 1. Panaderías (bakeries) are filled with pan de muertos (bread of the dead), and florists sell out of every kind of flower, especially the cempasúchil. Stores are filled with sugar skulls (calaveras) of every size, and museums proudly display their exhibits of skeleton figurines dressed as mariachis or everyday workers, such as plumbers, taxi drivers, or doctors.
In the days leading up to the holiday, each family creates a beautiful altar, sometimes referred to as an ofrenda, in their home. The altars are carefully decorated and covered in gifts. The altar is constructed with at least three levels. It is lovingly decorated by all family members with pictures of the loved ones that are being remembered.
Gifts of water, flowers, candles, and more may be placed on the altar. Each item has symbolic value. Some of the deceased's favorite foods and other items may also be included to honor their memory or recall their habits.
Calaveras, or skulls, can be placed on the altar as decoration. Sugar skulls, especially, have become quite popular. As their name suggests, these little skulls are made of sugar and taste like candy. They are usually decorated with icing to make them more fun and colorful. Not only are they great for decorating, but they are also yummy to eat. Smashing it with your fist and eating the shattered pieces is a way of showing that you've conquered death, if only symbolically.
The calaveras are often misunderstood by people who do not know the history of the holiday. The skulls are not intended to be scary, but rather symbolic: The skull represents the death of the body or the passing away of the person, and the decorative designs represent the beauty of their life.
Miniature skulls and skeletons, therefore, are not thought to be scary and are often left as toys for the deceased or to poke fun at death.
If you'd like to try making your own sugar skulls, or to order your sugar skull kits, check out the resources listed below.
|Photo by Alex Barth|
Sugar Skull Resources