The Day of the Dead, known in Spanish as El Día de los Muertos, is celebrated throughout Latin America. Though the name refers to death, it is actually a surprisingly joyous, happy occasion during which families welcome the spirits of their deceased loved ones back to their homes. Unlike Halloween, there is nothing spooky, grotesque, or scary about this celebration. It is celebrated on November 1 to remember children that have died, and November 2 to remember the adults that have passed. Every country celebrates it slightly differently, although the intention is still the same.
In Mexico, preparations begin in late September when open-air markets spring up everywhere for people to purchase the necessary items that make the event special. One can find toys in the shape of skeletons or skulls for children, food for the main meal, and decorations for the home and the cemetery. The toys are used to help children learn not to fear death
In their homes, people portion off a section of their living rooms to build an altar. The altar includes a picture of the loved one and many things that remind the family of him/her. These may include hobbies, favorite food, favorite toys, etc.. Candles are important to the celebration because they illuminate the way for the spirits to follow. Likewise, flowers provide an aromatic path for the spirits to find their way back to the home.
As part of the preparations, families spend much time sprucing up the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. The sites are cleaned, the tombs are repaired, and the entire area is decorated with lively colors mostly consisting of different flowers. On the main day, a large meal is prepared for the entire family. At the table, there is a place set for the spirit to join the family. This is the time for the family to remember and share fond times with the person they are honoring. The meal includes special “Pan de muertos” (Dead Bread), and the deceased person’s favorite foods.
After the main meal, at night, the families go to the cemetery where they participate in a huge, town-wide party. Here, they dance, sing, and eat for many hours. Children are free to run around and play in the cemetery. Teenagers often congregate to listen to their favorite music together. The celebration ends here because the families have guided the spirits back to their resting place where they will remain for the rest of the year.
Today, you can find many “Day of the Dead” decorations here in Manchester. If you see very bright, colorful, and happy skulls, they are not necessarily Halloween decorations. The idea has been borrowed from our Mexican friends. You can also find “Papel picado”, or strung cut paper designs depicting skulls or skeletons which are typical Mexican Day of the Dead decorations. In fact, the Google home page featured these on November 1 and 2. ¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!