Día de Los Muertos roughly translates to “day of the dead.” In fact, Día de Los Muertos is much more than celebrating death and those who’ve passed on before us. Rather, since the practice began, Día de Los Muertos has been and remains something of a celebration of life. Although Día de Los Muertos now occurs at the time of the Catholic and Anglican celebration of All Souls and All Saints Days, the ceremonies date back 3,000 years. Día de Los Muertos originated with the ancient Aztecs in Central and Southern Mexico.

Visitation of Souls of the Departed

Día de Los Muertos begins at midnight on October 31.  At that time, the souls of departed children come down to Earth from Heaven and reunite with their families. The reuniting occurs on November 1.

Día de Los Muertos continues through November 2. On that day, the souls of deceased adults return to Earth in a manner similar to the children. Souls of adults are reunited with their families.

Cemeteries as the Center of Activity

Festivities associated with Día de Los Muertos largely center around cemeteries. Families travel to the cemeteries where their relatives are interred. The visitation occurs to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. Families participate in a variety of activities in cemeteries as part of the celebration, including:

  • Picnics
  • Music
  • Dancing
  • Conversation

Scaring the Dead Away

The practice of face painting stems from the manner in which Día de Los Muertos is brought to an end. People who participate in Día de Los Muertos believe that visiting souls need something of a “push” to depart Earth and return to Heaven. Some say that the souls of the departed need to be scared back to Heaven. Hence, historically people participating in Día de Los Muertos wore masks that were known as careteas. In recent times, face painting has taken the place of masks.

Face painting (and masks before that practice) is designed to look like what fairly can be called decorated skulls. The decorating is meant to represent and honor those who have passed as well as to reflect and express the personality of the person being painted (or wearing a mask).

Food Associated With Día De Los Muertos

There are some specific food items that are associated with Día de Los Muertos, particularly in Mexico. Fruits and nuts (oftentimes citrus fruits) are mainstays of the celebration. In addition, families tend to prepare the favorite foods of deceased family members as part of a Día de Los Muertos celebration.

Decorations Associated With Día de Los Muertos

A number of different decorations, utilizing specific materials, are used during Día de Los Muertos celebrations. These include a variety of different types of decorative items made from tissue paper. In addition, cardboard skeletons are crated from Día de Los Muertos as well. In this day and age, the most popular type of decoration associated with Día de Los Muertos is the sugar skull. The sugar skull is a decorative skull made from hardened sugar. They are designed to look similar to the masks or face painting used during the celebration of Día de Los Muertos as well.

Altars for Día de Los Muertos at Cemeteries

Yet another element of Día de Los Muertos is the creation of what generally are called altars. Altars involve the decoration of the graves of family members who’ve passed on. In Spanish, altars are called ofrendas.

A featured element of ofendras or altars are marigold flowers, specifically orange marigolds. Orange marigolds typically are called the Flowers of the Dead during Día de Los Muertos. Orange marigolds are thought to attract the souls of the departed back to cemeteries and their families.

As part of setting up altars, toys are brought for the souls of the children. Adult beverages oftentimes are used to entice the souls of adults to join their living families for the Día de Los Muertos celebration. These beverages include tequila, mezcal, and pulque.

Altars for Día de Los Muertos at Cemeteries

Some families build altars for Día de Los Muertos in their homes. These altars tend to feature the Christian cross as well as images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In addition, many candles are used to adorn an altar in a residence. Photos of deceased family members are included in these altars as well.

Some people elect to create altars that are designed to last beyond the days of Día de Los Muertos. In these instances, the commemorative creations are considered shrines.

Unexpected Death in a Home

While some people celebrate departed loved ones in their homes during Día de Los Muertos, other individuals are faced with the overwhelming task of having to deal with an unexpected death in a home. In some instances, these deaths are the result of a traumatic event like a suicide, homicide, or what is known as an unattended death. An unattended death is one in which a person dies alone and the remains are not found for a period of time.

When such a situation exists, professional assistance is recommended in the form of a biohazard remediation company. Death scene cleanup is a complicated, challenging, and potentially hazardous endeavor that necessitates the equipment, resources, and experience of a professional.