Dia de Los Muertos – Day of the Dead – Mexican Myths and Legends

Day of the Dead mythology

The Day of the Dead, otherwise known as Dia de Muertos, or Dia de Los Muertos, is a public holiday celebrated in Mexico, as well as by people of Mexican ancestry living in other places around the world. Many consider it to be the Mexican version of Halloween, but it is really quite different. For one reason, it has been celebrated in Mexico since 1800 BC. This popular holiday that spans a few days concentrates on family and friends gathering together in order to pray for and remember friends and family who have died, as well as to offer them support during their spiritual journey. A great honor was bestowed on this cultural celebration when it was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

The origins of the Day of the Dead

The Mexican celebration known as the Day of the Dead has developed from ancient traditions. The Mexican civilization has been observing rituals that celebrate the deaths of ancestors for more than 2,500 years.

It was a festival that was held in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, around the beginning of August, that developed into the modern celebration. And the celebrations lasted for a whole month. A goddess known as the "Lady of the Dead" was who the festival was dedicated to and she corresponds to the modern La Calavera Catrina.

Towards the end of the 20th century it was common practice for most regions of Mexico to honor dead children on November 1st, with dead adults being honored on November 2nd. November 1st is referred to as Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) as well as Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels).

The beliefs behind the Day of the Dead celebration

The Day of the Dead is actually a three day celebration. It begins on October 31st, known as All Hallows Eve. On this day children make an altar that is used to invite the spirits of dead children (Angelitos) to come back for a visit. All Saints Day is held on November 1st and this is when adult spirits come to visit. All Souls Day is November 2nd and this is the day when families visit the cemetery and decorate the tombs and graves of family members.

The marigold, the flowers of the dead, are used throughout the celebration, along with muertos (the bread of the dead), cardboard skeletons, sugar skulls, decorations made of tissue paper, nuts and fruit, incense and lots of other traditional food and decorations.

The reason for people to celebrate the dead relatives is so that their souls will be encouraged to visit and hear the prayers and words of those still living. So this is another example of how the myths and legends of those that have gone before us shape our modern culture.