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Belief in brief: Day of the Dead


Belief in brief: Day of the Dead

By Lauren Young
November 2, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Day of the Dead, also known as “El Dia de los Muertos,” is celebrated on
Nov. 2. It is a day to honor family members and friends who have died. This holiday is typically
celebrated in Mexico and by Latin Americans living in the United States.


The holiday can be traced back to a pre-Columbian Aztec festival. After Christianity was
introduced to Latin America, the festival was moved from the ninth month on the Aztec
calendar to coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

Video: History of Day of the Dead


It is believed that the spirits of the dead come back to Earth on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. Families and
friends observe many customs in order to make sure that the spirit will be comfortable during
its visit.

November 1, El Dia de los Angelitos, is the day when spirits of children are believed to visit.
November 2, the Day of the Dead, is when the spirits of the adult dead visit their loved ones.

Families traditionally clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Many times flowers are
placed on the grave. A traditional flower is the orange marigold, which is believed to direct the
attention of the spirit toward the offerings on their grave. Items the dead were fond of are also
left at the grave site – for example, toys for children.

Alters and small shrines are commonly constructed in homes. They are often decorated with an
image of the dead, food, candles, crosses or an image of the Virgin Mary. Items such as a wash
bowl or a shaving kit may be included so the spirit can clean up after its long trip. Alters are
also sometimes constructed in public places such as schools and government offices.

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Belief in brief: Day of the Dead

Images created by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada such as Catrina, a skeletal parody of
an upper-class woman, are also common.

Video: Day of the Dead traditions


A few traditional foods are:

Sugar Skulls: Skulls made from sugar and decorated with icing. They are commonly
placed on alters and with other offerings to the dead. The sugar skull has its roots in
Aztec traditions that celebrated the lives of those who have passed away.

Pan de Muerto: A sweet bread that is also placed on alters, shrines and gravesites.

Tamales: Corn husks filled with corn dough. They are commonly filled with pork or
chicken with red or green salsa.


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