Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos)


Imagine, for a moment, streets flooding with vibrant, painted faces, transformed into unique skulls, with colorful patterns, flowers, and jewels. The scent of copal incense and marigolds permeates the air, guiding spirits to join the celebration. Vibrant garments float and whimsically twirl around altars lovingly crafted in memoriam of loved ones; those who have crossed to the other side of the Veil. The rich and guttural sound of guitars sways with the energy of possibility, enchanting the souls of the living and dead simultaneously. Candles and lanterns endlessly flicker, and the songs and stories of memories echo throughout the country. This is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead is celebrated from October 31 through November 2. The origins of Dia de los Muertos can be traced back to the Aztec festival honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. Mictecacihuatl, who died during childbirth, watched over the bones of the dead. Legend has it, bones of the dead, in other realms, were stolen to create the first humans of the world, and can be used to create the future beings of another world.

Dia de los Muertos holds impenetrable magic, invigorating our souls to dance with loved ones who have passed, if only for a short period of time when the veil between the living and the dead has lifted. Our ancestors are integral parts of our own identities; our connection to them is a true source of magic – a bond that is stronger than time itself. Dia de los Muertos is a time to invoke their souls and support their spiritual journey. We honor their influence and presence, thanking them for the gifts they’ve passed on to the living – and remembering the life they’ve created in each of us.

When we honor those who came before, we honor the passion, sacrifice, goodness, and evolution of humanity – some say we stand on their backs or bones, to continue persevering and progressing. We build upon the accomplishments of the past. Skulls (calaveras) are found everywhere during Dia de los Muertos, because they remind us to celebrate our lives and mortality and to look at the past and future, while staying in the present. A calaca is a skeleton, and these also abound. We are all made of bones, and becoming a skeleton is a phase we all go through, a natural cycle uniting us. Life and death are equally great rites of passage. Death is not the end, but the start of a new chapter. It is said this life is a dream, and we truly awaken after death.

Altars (ofrendas) are a vital part of Dia de los Muertos tradition. Families build ofrendas in their homes and public spaces. Hours of thought, love, and attention to detail go into these works of art, and in many towns there are contests, judging the best of the best. These altars are not for worship, they are offerings in memory and honor of specific people who are no longer living. Ofrendas are designed to call in the souls of the deceased and include their favorite indulgences. Great care is taken to prepare special foods and pan de muerto (bread of the dead). Photos, candles, skulls, decorations, trinkets, beverages, alcoholic spirits, music, and other attractions are used to ensure the departed souls’ recognition and arrival. Salt and fresh water are always included, to quench their thirst, after the long and weary journey into the land of the living.

What do you think your ofrenda (altar) would look like? What memories do you think you would leave behind for your family and friends to cherish? What legacy do you wish to leave, to support and inspire future generations? Will you invite a departed soul to join you this season? How are you building upon the works and ideas of the past, with creativity, innovation and gratitude? During this time of year, we’re closer to our ancestors, and I believe it’s so important to thank them for making our lives possible. They are forever a part of who we are.

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