It’s the 1st of November, and in some countries, this date and the next (November 2) hold particular importance. November 1 is usually celebrated as All Saint’s Day, while November 2 is All Soul’s Day. Places in Latin America, the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, especially the countries that are predominantly Catholic, consider this date as a public holiday. In most cases, this date celebrates the lives of the deceased, people honor their deceased loved ones by visiting cemeteries and churches. Though this day is associated with the dead, it is rarely somber or grim. Rather, most places celebrate it as a festival, with music, food and prayers. One famous celebration is Mexico’s El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. If you’re fortunate enough to visit Mexico, especially Oaxaca, you’ll get a chance to be witness to a celebration that honors life as much as death.
The Day of the Dead begins at noon on November 1. November 1 is usually devoted to the souls of dead children, November for deceased adults. Celebrations are everywhere, at home, in public, and especially in the Pantheon Municipal (the cemetery). There, you’ll see what looks like a carnival in full swing: amusement rides, music, games, stands selling food, flowers and all kinds of items. There’s even a mariachi band to play through the night. The graves are decorated with hundreds of candles, and prayers mix with the sounds of families retelling anecdotes about the deceased.
Most graves and altars are decorated with ofrendas, or offerings, such as flowers, incense, fruits, special foods the dead enjoyed, water (in case the dead get thirsty), toys for dead children, and bottles of liquor for the adults. There will also be a religious picture, often the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary, or the Cross, as well as pictures of the deceased.
The common symbol of this holiday is the skull, which is represented in various ways. There are masks called calacas, and children roam around dressed as skeletons. Foods such as sugar skulls are gifts that are given to both the living and the dead, a holiday treat which children love. There’s also pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a sweet roll made in various shapes, with a little wooden effigy baked into the dough.
Next time November rolls around, why don’t you visit Mexico, and experience this remarkable party for the dead and the living?