Wow, what an amazing experience to see Día de los Muertos in Mexico City!
Like most of us, I studied spanish in high school and in an attempt to immerse us in the rich and colorful culture, we learned about this annual celebration and its customs. However, I was not prepared for how elaborate, beautiful, and full of life it truly is.
Día de los Muertos translates to Day of the Dead. Though it sounds like a dark and dreary day, it is actually a colorful and uplifting chance to remember all those who have passed on.
Here’s a quick little background on the celebration. Long ago, the indigenous people of Mexico, have been practicing the ritual of celebrating the dead for over 3,000 years. To the Aztecs, death is the continuation of life and instead of fearing it, they embraced it. Día de los Muertos are also a celebration dedicated to the goddess, Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. Many people visit the cemeteries and graves of their deceased loved ones and in some cities they stay the night with them.
Usually Día de los Muertos is on the 1st and 2nd of November, with the first evening honoring the children and infants and the second evening honoring the adults. People begin preparing in advance for the festivities by building large ofrendas in the streets and in private homes for both close family members as well as public figures or groups of people. Ofrendas are giant altar offerings covered in bright flowers, especially marigolds which are the flower of the dead, with candles and incense to guide and welcome the souls back home. They are usually filled with the departed’s favorite foods and drinks, as well as skeleton figurines and photos. Some popular foods left at the altars are pan de muerto, chocolate, iced skulls made of sugar called calaveras, and specially prepared crickets called los chapulines. It is believed that when the souls of the departed return, they consume the essence of the food and drink. After the festivities, the families will share the food with each other to share a meal with both the living and the dead.Around the ofrendas are colorful and intricate sand sculptures called las canchas and the families will leave blankets and pillows for the souls to rest from their long journey back.
During my travels, I was able to see many of these traditions first hand! Walking around Plaza de la Constitución and the Catederal Metropolitana in Zócalo, I was surrounded by amazingly large and elaborate ofrendas. It was amazing! There were colorful flowers and decorated skulls everywhere. And the atmosphere was electric with live music and dance!
Later on, I was invited to the home of my friend to see a more personal side of the fiesta. Upon entering, the house smelled amazing and there was a massive spread of traditional Mexican food in both the front room and in the kitchen. But the main attraction was the traditional Oaxaca style ofrenda, filled with flowers, candles, incense, figurines, skulls, pictures of family members, various types of bread, food, chocolates, sweets, drinks, and more! I even ate a cricket! This truly was a celebration I will remember forever.
Here is a traditional Día de los Muertos peom that my dear friend Lety wrote for me. I absolutely love it!
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