About the Holiday

Los Colores del Muerto (Day of the Dead Celebration)~BACKGROUND & HISTORY
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a Mexican custom of celebrating all souls and all saints day in a festive atmosphere. Because the Mexican people find joy in remembering loved ones who have passed away, they spend a night and a day at the burial site of the deceased family members, honoring the memories of their lives. Traditionally, the Day of the Dead was a three day and three night festival that mixed Spanish Catholicism with Mesoamerican Indian roots. The ancient custom has now been transformed to fit the Mexican-American households of today.

The Mexican people believe that deceased children return to visit Earth on the last day of October, and the faithful dead return on November 2nd.

At this time every year, families gather at cemeteries to clean and adorn the graves of their deceased loved ones. The Museum celebrates the heritage and artistic expression of this custom with traditional and non-traditional altars and festivities.

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican custom of celebrating All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) both official holidays of the Catholic Calendar together in a festive atmosphere. The Day of the Dead merges pre-Columbian and modern Catholic beliefs. The celebration was founded to honor all the faithfully departed of the previous year.

There are a number of different customs surrounding the celebration of the Day of the Dead. Altars are created to present food and beverages for the dead to partake in spirit and the living to consume later. These altars, or ofrendas, are generally arranged with flowers (traditionally marigolds), a candle for each dead soul, and adorned with mementos, photos and other remembrances of the deceased. Incense can also be used.

Calaveras are obituaries set to poetry. They are often attached to ofrendas as a placard. They generally describe the character of the deceased in a jovial or satirical tone.

Papel picado are a popular decoration in Mexico. The tissue banners are made using scissors, but since the 1940’s they have been cut with tiny chisels called fierritos. Today, skilled artisans use more than fifty different chisels to make various cuts in up to fifty sheets of tissue paper at the same time. Colored banners are displayed on October 31st, the day the angelitos (deceased children) arrive, at 3 p.m. On November 1, the angelitos depart and the animas (deceased adults) arrive. When this occurs the colored banners are removed and the black and white banners are displayed.

Food is an important part of the celebration. Typical foods include: bread, chalupas, enchiladas, fruit, vegetables, and sweets. Other delicacies are: sugar skulls (bought from bakeries with the names of family members who are alive and deceased inscribed), candied fruit and pumpkins, tamales (corn meal with meat or raising wrapped in corn husks), and maize dough cakes. The traditional pan de muerto, dead bread, is commonly decorated with sugar. The bread is always placed on the altar and not removed until the visit to the cemetery for the soul. Beverages placed on the memorial include: water, coffee, beer, tequila, and atole (a special hot drink made from corn meal).

Day of the Dead can also be a very private celebration as a great deal of the event focuses on the home and the cemetery. Each community can bring their own heritage and culture to the event creating a variation of expression.