Día de Muertos – Mexico
Arguably one of the most notable festivals in the world, Día de Muertos or Daz of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that focuses on the gathering of family and friends to pray for and bless the afterlife journey of those who have passed away.
Traditions include many things in commemoration to the dead, such as private altars (ofrendas), preparing favorite food dishes and beverages of the lost loved ones, visiting their graves with gifts and many more.
Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The holiday has spread throughout the world, being absorbed within other deep traditions for honoring the dead.
Lonely Planet states:
“In a belief system inherited from the Aztecs, Mexicans believe their dead are lurking in Mictlan, a kind of spiritual waiting room, and they can return to their homes at this time of year. Families thus begin preparations to help the spirits find their way home and to make them welcome, starting with an arch made of bright-yellow marigolds – a symbolic doorway from the underworld. An altar is erected and piled high with offerings to the invisible visitors: flowers, ribbons, coloured candles, tamales (steam-cooked cornmeal dough), fruit and corn. Two important additions are a container of water, because the spirits arrive thirsty after their journey, and pan de muertos (bread of the dead). The loaf is made with egg yolks, fruits and tequila or mezcal, and is adorned with, or shaped as, a symbol of death.
The first day, Día de Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels), is dedicated to dead children, and the toys they once loved are placed on the altar.
The rituals are particularly important if the household has suffered a bereavement in the previous year. Women will spend all day cooking the favourite food of the dead relative for the customary feast, in which friends and family gather to toast the ghostly visitors.
The event climaxes with a visit to the cemetery. There might be a funfair en route, with neon-lit rides and stands selling crucifix waffles and cooked cactus snacks. Families will devote a day to cleaning the graves, decorating them with candles and flores del muerto (flowers of the dead), having picnics and dancing to mariachi bands. By now, the streets are full of papier-mâché skeletons, which are life-size but could never pass for the real thing in their dresses, jewellery, flowery boas and hats. A cigarette dangles jauntily from a white hand, a hoop earring hangs against a bare jawbone.”