The Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls Day and Dia de los Muertos, is truly a celebration of life. Here’s how to get in the spirit of this festival…
Dia de Muertos, known as the Day of the Dead festival, is most commonly celebrated across Mexico and observed by Mexican-American communities in the United States. The two-day festival is a tribute to loved ones that have passed over, and developed from ancient rituals from the Aztecs. The day encourages families and friends to get together to pray and support the spiritual journies of the dead and their souls.
Families hold vigils, present offerings to their deceased relatives, and hold large parties and gatherings in the belief that spirits will bless them with good luck and protection. The wearing of skull make-up, bright colours and the use of skull icons is encouraged as part of the festivities. Here’s how to get into the spirit of the occasion and throw your own Dia de Muertos celebration with our easy guide…
What to wear?
• Skeleton-themed make-up is common for Day of the Dead parties and festivals, especially in the USA. Try painting your face white and decorate with dark eyes, lips, bright patterns and stick-on jewels (also known as Calavera or sugar skull make-up).
• In some cultures, festival-goers pay respect to the deceased by dressing up as them. We’ll leave this up to you, as you should only do this if you feel comfortable.
• Brightly coloured clothing – large skirts and dresses, and anything that marks a celebration of the spirit and life.
• Lace garments (preferably in red or black).
• Bold floral hair garlands.
• Skeleton-print dresses, leggings or t-shirts (for anyone who wants to rock a more casual daytime look!)
Five Day of the Dead facts
It’s not supposed to be scary!
Despite the number of skulls and spooky costumes you may see, the Day of the Dead is rooted in believing that death is something to be celebrated in a lively way, and that we shouldn’t be afraid of it, as it is a continuation of the life cycle. When you plan your own celebrations, keep this in mind. You want to bring photos and stories of your loved ones with you to share them with others and honour treasured memories.
The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead can differ depending on the age and standing of the person who died. The younger the person, the more sombre the occasion tends to be.
It isn’t just celebrated in Mexico
Dia de Muertos is also celebrated in the Philippines and South America. Filipinos in particular use the holiday to visit and tend to family graves. It isn’t unusual for you to find families spending the night in graveyards, playing card games, socialising and drinking to feel close to their deceased relatives.
People get creative with calaveras
Short poems, often like limericks, known as ‘calaveras’ are penned and read aloud to poke fun at dead relatives’ attributes and traits to lighten the mood of the occasion.
The festival is a protected cultural heritage
In 2008, the Day of the Dead was written into the list of Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity by UNESCO, taking its place alongside religious celebrations, dances and skills from around the world.
A spell to honour the dead…
You’ll need: • Lavender essential oil • Sprigs of rosemary • Two black candles • Paper to place between the two black candles
1 Set up, placing one candle either side of the paper.
2 Write on the paper the following message: “Those I have lost, I will never forget you. Please let your spirits receive these loving words, as a sign of my commitment to you, until my own life ends and I can join you.”
3 Turn the paper over and write your feelings, emotions and memories of those you have lost.
4 Fold the paper three times.
5 Place a couple of drops of lavender oil on the paper before sealing with the rosemary.
6 Burn the paper down safely.