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What is the Day of the Dead?

Published: October 25, 2019

Day of the Dead is a two-day Mexican celebration beginning on October 31 and ending on November 2. The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. Mexicans view it not as a day of sadness, but as a day of celebration because their loved ones awake and celebrate with them.

It is a lovely celebration. The spirits are not feared but are embraced. Prayers are offered to help the deceased on their journey. Graves are tended and decorated with flowers, usually marigolds. Whole families go to the cemetery, they bring favorite foods and memories about the deceased are shared.

The holiday dates back 2,500 – 3,000 years to the ancient pre-Columbian culture of ancient Mexico. Although Day of the Dead festivities happen at the same time as the American holiday Halloween, they are not the same. The tone of Day of the Dead celebrations is full of color and joy whereas Halloween is dark and mysterious. In the ancient Mexican tradition, the dead are still considered members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit. 

Altars built to honor the dead include the four elements, water, earth, wind, and fire. A water pitcher sits on the alter for the spirits to drink from. Wind is represented in small colorful flags that flutter in the breeze and a candle is present to represent fire.  Finally, the food, especially bread, symbolize earth.

This year when you see the those brightly painted skeletons, you’ll understand that they are not about Halloween but are part of a holiday that celebrates family and friends who have gone before. How nice is that?

 

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