The Traditions Behind Día de los Muertos

Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a tradition that began before Catholicism made its way to Mexico. Since then, this event has mixed Catholic traditions with that of Mesoamerican religions creating a unique and exciting celebration.

Dia de Los Muertos has many different aspects to it, one being the religious and another the humorous. Religion is the central focus of Dia de Los Muertos, throughout Mexico and Latin America. Preceding Catholicism’s arrival in Mexico, the Day of the Dead was celebrated by the indigenous polytheistic Mesoamerican religions.

Different gods governed the various destinations of the deceased, and the dead were placed in each god’s realm according to the way they died.

When Catholicism arrived, its missionaries saw an opportunity to spread the concept of hell through the indigenous people’s beliefs in the destinations of the dead, and to incorporate the Catholic All Saints Day with the pre-existing Dia de Los Muertos. The Day of the Dead changed dramatically while maintaining many of its pre-Catholic traditions.

One of the traditions that has held true through the years is the offering or Ofrenda made to family members that passed away. The offerings can range from food laid upon the graves and small private displays to honor the dead more subtly, to larger more public displays that may convey a bigger message about those who have died, including political or social messages.

A special Mass for Dia de Los Muertos is held every year in public places, including cemeteries in some regions of Mexico. Some families use the celebration to decorate and honor the graves of dead relatives and the candlelight from the decorations leaves a faint glow over the cemeteries at night during the festival.

Though death may not seem like something that would contain humor, there is a lot intertwined within the traditions of Dia de Los Muertos.

One of the most famous icons of Dia de Los Muertos is the skull or Death, and candy shaped skulls are exchanged by people as jokes.

The skull, called a calavera, is used not only as an image of death, but in the celebrations and artwork of popular culture.

Though its roots lie in Mexico, more and more people are celebrating Dia de Los Muertos in the U.S., encouraged by Hispanics native to the U.S. and immigrants proud of their Latino heritage. Dia de Los Muertos celebrations involve music, flowers, fireworks, processions and other events that make this celebration of the dead both a holiday and a time to celebrate community and Latino pride.