In Mexico, the “Day of the Dead” or Día de Muertos is one of the biggest dates in the calendar. Here are nine things you should know about it:
1. There’s no such thing as a “Day of the Dead parade” in downtown Mexico City
At least not until 2015. Thanks to the James Bond film ’Spectre’, people outside of Mexico believed that the parade was a staple of the Day of the Dead celebrations when in fact, it was just part of the film’s production. However, it was such a big hit that the next year, another one actually took place.
2. It’s not a morbid celebration, nor does it translate as the Mexican “Halloween”
The Day of the Dead is not about trick or treating or any of the kinds of things you’ll see north of the border. In Mexico, November 2nd is all about remembering and commemorating the lives of friends, family and loved ones who have passed away.
3. The orange flowers placed in altars are Marigolds
The smell of marigold flowers is exactly what many Mexicans think of when they think about the Day of the Dead. In Spanish, they are called ‘cempasuchil‘, which is a Nahuatl word that means ‘twenty flowers’ or ‘flower of 20 petals’.
4. Day of the Dead altars are all about symbolism
Why the skulls? Why the flowers? What about the beads and the flowers? These things are not placed there randomly, but each of them contains a deep significance and carries great symbolic meaning, dating back to pre-Hispanic times. Check out more here, here and here.
5. Día de Muertos hasn’t always been in November
In Prehispanic times, what is now known as Day of the Dead used to be celebrated on the ninth month of the traditional calendar, at the beginning of August. However, after the Spaniards arrived, the date was moved to make it coincide with the Christian festivities of Día de Todos los Santos.
6. Most schools, universities and even workplaces traditionally hold altar competitions
Some competitions have a theme, whereas in others the participants can decide to whom the altar is dedicated.
7. The popular image of “La Catrina” is often attributed to Diego Rivera, but was in fact created by José Guadalupe Posada
The portrait was created in 1910 and was originally called “La calavera garbancera”. ‘Garbancero’ comes from ‘garbanzo’ (chickpea), was a term used for indigenous people that wanted to be more European.
8. Friends and family get together to drink chocolate and eat pan de muerto
Chocolate is native to Central America but unlike today, people used to drink it spicy instead of sweet. Pan de Muertos is a round, sweet bread with shapes on the top that look like bones. You may also find sugar skulls (calaveras de azúcar) and candied pumpkin (calabaza en dulce).
9. People usually write little rhymes called “calaveritas” (little skulls)
Although at one point this tradition looked like it was nearly extinct, Twitter and social media have to some extent brought it back. Check out #calaveritas for more!