5 ways to celebrate Día de los Muertos
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a bright and colorful holiday with origins rooted thousands of years ago in Latin America. Colorful decorations, song, dance, food and ornate costumes fill city streets and homes to honor and celebrate the lives of deceased loved ones. The holiday’s cultural prevalence in Mexico was recognized by UNESCO in 2008 and was added to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage Humanity.
The holiday, celebrated on November 1 and 2, is often incorrectly associated with Halloween celebrations on October 31. As opposed to spooky and mischievous themes of Halloween celebrations, Día de los Muertos is a joyful celebration of life, not death. We wanted to share 5 ways you can celebrate this beautiful holiday at home using many of the decorations and gifts inside our Fall TROVE Box!
1. Build an ofrenda
The most important tradition for welcoming back friendly spirits is to build an ofrenda (or altar) for the deceased in family homes or cemeteries. The ofrenda is not for worship, but rather serves as a welcoming tribute for returning loved ones. Family will cover the structure with pictures of the deceased, a few of their important belongings, bright flowers and each of the four elements to help them in their journey:
Water - Glasses of water are left quench their loved one’s thirst after their long journey back home.
Wind - Papel picado, colorful paper banners, are included to represent wind.
Earth - Food is left on the altar to represent the earth, with the menu typically including the passed relative’s favorite dish or pan de muerto, a traditional sweet bread enjoyed during the holiday.
Fire - On each ofrenda sits a candle for each visiting spirit, serving as a light to help them find their way home. Candles in the form of a cross are commonly used to represent the cardinal directions.
2. Display your calaveras de azucar
You’ll probably already recognize one of the holidays most iconic symbols: the calaveras de azucar, or sugar skulls. The painted skulls, which come in all shapes and sizes, are not intended to be morbid. Instead, they serve as a whimsical and eccentric reminder about the circle of life.
These cartoon-esque and colorful skulls were popularized by an early 20th century cartoonist, who drew one of the earliest calavera designs as a personification of death. It was intended as social commentary in response to the quote, “Todos somos calaveras.” The quote, which directly translates to “We are all skeletons,” is meant to represent that we are all the same underneath our chosen, man-made exteriors.
Source: Sol Mexico News
In 1947, artist Diego Rivera used the design to create a mural with his own representation of the skull. His interpretation showed a female skeleton with a large, fancy hat, which he nicknamed La Catrina. Now, Catrina is the holiday’s most popular character. Many use makeup and colorful clothing to mimic her iconic look during parades and celebration.
Your TROVE experience will include an adorable, handmade calavera! Where will you proudly display yours?
3. Colorful decorations everywhere!
Marigolds, monarch butterflies, papel picado and colorful calaveras are as important to Día de los Muertos as trees are to Christmas and pumpkins are to Halloween.
The cempasúchil, which is a species of marigold flower native to Mexico, is a celebration staple. The vibrant, yellow marigold petals are scattered around the altar and petals will be used to create a bright path from the gravesite to the ofrenda. This is believed to give their loved ones a clear, easy-to-follow path to the family home and back to their place of rest.
Papel picado, intricately crafted and colorful tissue paper banners, can be found in Mexico all year long, but play an extra special role during Día de los Muertos. The banners are hung along the streets and ofrendas to represent the wind and the fragility of life. Talented artisans painstakingly create complex designs on each sheet of tissue with a hammer and chisel. In your TROVE box, you’ll receive a special Día de los Muertos set of papel picado to decorate with during your celebration!
Another celebrated symbol of Día de los Muertos is the monarch butterfly. Every fall on November 1, the first monarchs migrate to Mexico for the winter and are believed to embody the spirit of the departed returning home.
4. Enjoy delicious holiday meals
Food is always included on ofrendas for the returning relatives, who are believed to definitely have worked up an appetite after their long journey home. But the living get hungry too, and they’ve got plenty of delicious dishes associated with the holiday!
Pan de Muerto, or bread of the dead, is the holiday’s most popular snack. Often, loafs are decorated with skulls and bones shaped from dough. The sweet bread can be enjoyed alone or with other preferred toppings. Sofia, our awesome artist from Mexico City who will be teaching TROVE travelers to create their own gorgeous paintings during our Día de los Muertos celebration, recommends enjoying the sweet bread with Nutella! Yum! (P.S. Be sure to check out Sofia’s favorite Pan de Muerto recipe, which will be included in your box!)
Mole, a rich, flavorful sauce made with chili peppers and chocolate is another common dish enjoyed during the celebration. We’ll be learning to make this with Chef Graciela, along with freshly-made tortillas. Our mouths are already watering!
Popular holiday drinks include hot chocolate, pulque (a sweet, fermented agave beverage) and atole, a thin porridge made from corn flour, cane sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.
5. Watch Coco!
As Día de los Muertos gains popularity in the states, it’s also gaining traction in pop culture.
Most notably, Disney’s 2017 hit animated movie Coco told the story of a young aspiring musician in Mexico focused around his adventures during El Día de los Muertos. Our featured artist, Sofia noted that she personally loved the movie and felt that it truly captured the spirit and traditions of the holiday.
“They did a great job. Everything that they say is true, like the meaning of the traditions and the altars,” she said. “The cemetery from the opening scene is actually a real one in Michoacán!”
So, consider giving Coco a watch before our special holiday adventure to Mexico City to get a good idea for the holiday and see the (animated, of course) traditions and celebrations!
Yay! Our special edition Día de los Muertos box is on sale now, so don’t miss a chance to travel to Mexico City and celebrate with us! Your holiday experience will include an authentic cooking class with Chef Graciela, a painting class with Sofia and all the goodies you’ll need to celebrate this special and meaningful holiday the right way at home!