Day of the Dead 2022: History, Significance and Celebrations

Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) is a two day holiday that reunites the living and dead. Families create ofrendas (Offerings) to honor their departed family members that have passed.

Day of the Dead is one of the biggest celebrations taking place in Mexico and it is celebrated for two days on 1st and 2nd November every year. This is also one of the biggest celebration honoring the dead in the world. 

On this day, it is believed that the souls of the dead return to visit their living family members. Many people celebrate this day by visiting the graves of deceased loved ones and setting up altars with their favorite foods, drink, and photos.

Event Day of the Dead
Date November 2, 2022
Day Wednesday
Significance The day celebrates and honors the departed ones.
Observed by Americas


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Day of the Dead History: 

The roots of the Day of the Dead, celebrated in contemporary Mexico and among those of Mexican heritage in the United States and around the world, go back as far as 3,000 years, to the rituals honoring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The Aztecs and other Nahua people living in what is now central Mexico held a cyclical view of the universe, and saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life. They believed that upon dying, a person was believed to travel to Chicunamictlan, the Land of the Dead. Only after getting through nine challenging levels, a journey of several years, could the person’s soul finally reach Mictlán, the final resting place.

In Nahua rituals honoring the dead, traditionally held in August, family members provided food, water and tools to aid the deceased in this difficult journey. This inspired the contemporary Day of the Dead practice in which people leave food or other offerings on their loved ones’ graves, or set them out on makeshift altars called ofrendas in their homes. In ancient Europe too, pagan celebrations of the dead also took place in the fall, and consisted of bonfires, dancing and feasting. Some of these customs survived even after the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, which (unofficially) adopted them into their celebrations of two Catholic holidays, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated on the first two days of November. 

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La Catrina is one of the most recognizable figures of Day of the Dead, a towering female skeleton with vibrant make up and a flamboyant feathery hat. The Lady of Death worshipped by the Aztecs protected their departed loved ones, guided them through their final stages of the life and death cycles. La Catrina that we know today came to be in the early 1900s by controversial and political cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada. Artist and husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, included Jose’s La Catrina in one of his murals which depicted 400 years of Mexican history.

However, Mexican academics are divided on whether the festivity has genuine indigenous pre-Hispanic roots or whether it is a 20th-century rebranded version of a Spanish tradition developed during the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas to encourage Mexican nationalism through an “Aztec” identity. As in medieval Spain, people would bring wine and pan de animas (spirit bread) to the graves of their loved ones on All Souls Day; they would also cover graves with flowers and light candles to illuminate the dead souls way back to their homes on Earth. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadores brought such traditions with them to the New World, along with a darker view of death influenced by the devastation of the bubonic plague.

Opposing views assert that despite the obvious European influence, there exists proof of pre-Columbian festivities that were very similar in spirit, with the Aztec people having at least six celebrations during the year that were very similar to Day of the Dead, the closest one being Quecholli, a celebration that honored Mixcoatl (the god of war) and was celebrated between October 20 and November 8. Regardless of its origin, the festivity has become a national symbol in Mexico and as such is taught in the nation’s school system, typically asserting a native origin. It is also a school holiday nationwide. In 2008, the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO as well. 

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Day of the Dead Significance: 

Day of the Dead is a rare holiday for celebrating death and life. Although there are many holidays honoring the souls and spirits but it is unlike any holiday where mourning is exchanged for celebration and it is also one of the biggest festival happening in Mexico and as it is celebrated near the other spooky celebrations such as Halloween and All Souls Day so this makes it a very nice timely celebrations as well and thus often works as a representation of Mexican cultural heritage to the world as well. This festival is also a honoring ancestral festival as ancestors are remembered and called on this day. 

The holiday is a two day festival in which Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) starts the holiday at midnight on Nov 1st, where the spirits of all deceased children are believed to be reunited with their families for 24 hours. Families construct an altar, known as an ofrenda, with the departed child’s favorite snacks, candies, toys, and photographs to encourage a visit from their departed children. The names of the departed children will often be written on a sugar skull.

At midnight of the following day (November 2nd) which is referred as the Dia de los Difuntos Spirits(Spirits of the adults), the celebrations shift to honor the lives of the departed adults. The night is filled with laughter and fun memories, much like the night before. However, the Ofrendas take on a more adult-like theme with tequila, pan de muerto, mezcal, pulque and jars of Atole. Families will also play games together, reminisce about their loved ones, and dance while the village band plays in their town.

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The next day is the grand finale and public celebration of Dia de Muertos. In more recent times, people come together in their cities, dressed up with Calavera painted faces (Skeletons) and have parades in the streets. Cemetery visits are also common on the last day as families will go to decorate the grave sites with Marigold flowers, gifts, and sugar skulls with the departed’s name on them. It’s customary to clean the grave stone and restore the color.

One more thing that people needs to remember that the Day of the Dead is not the “Mexican Halloween” like it is sometimes mistaken to be because of the timing of the year. The two holidays originated with similar afterlife beliefs but are very different in modern day. Like decorating your house with spiders and bats and wearing scary costumes is not done in most parts of Mexico like Halloween in USA. Many of us see death as a sad event but those who celebrate Day of the Dead view death as a welcomed part of life. That is why you will see brightly colored skeletons and skulls everywhere during the holiday. They often are seen smiling, as a friendly nod to death, even mocking death.

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Day of the Dead Celebrations: 

The main tradition for Day of the Dead sees families gather to honor and remember their loved ones who are no longer with us. This is the day when ancestors of the family members are remembered and respect and honor is paid to them. This day also celebrates the death as it sees as a natural aspect of our life so instead of fearing from the death, it is embraced on this day. Celebrated as a sacred and joyous occasion, there is plenty of food, lots of flowers, visits with family members and nostalgic stories about those who have died.

Calaveras are common during Day of the Dead celebrations. The skulls are often drawn with a smile as to laugh at death itself. They take many forms such as sugar candies, clay decorations, and most memorable: face painting. Sugar skulls are decorated and placed on ofrendas of loved ones. A Calavera, or sugar skull, is a decorative skulls made (usually by hand) from either sugar (called Alfeniques) or clay which are used in the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Mexican marigold as an offering and decorative symbol is also prevalent during this day. Marigolds are believed to be the pathways that guide the spirits to their ofrendas. The flower’s vibrant colors and scent attract the departed souls, as they return to feast on their favorite foods. They are called “Flor de Muerto” (Spanish for Flower of Dead) and they symbolize the beauty and fragility of life. Marigold flowers include around 60 annuals and perennials that are native to Mexico and Central America.

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While the most recognizable aspects of Day of the Dead are the representations of skulls and skeletons, the tradition that holds the most meaning is the Ofrenda (Spanish for offering). The Ofrenda is what the whole celebration is about; it’s a collection of offerings dedicated to the person being honored which in this case is referring to all the departed souls of the family. However there are certain rituals which are followed during making this offerings. 

Mostly it includes a brightly colored Oilcloth which covers the table and on top of that sits a collection of photographs and personal items of the departed person. The lower portion of the altar is where the offerings are placed, from traditional Mexican cuisine to other items that represent the honored person’s particular tastes. The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy in Mexico and outside of Mexico too it is greatly celebrated by the Mexican immigrants especially in the US. 

Most Searched FAQs on Day of the Dead: 

1. When is Day of the Dead celebrated? 

Day of the Dead is annually celebrated on 2nd November in Mexico. 

2. What happens on Day of the Dead? 

As per Mexican tradition, Day of the Dead is celebrated by offering goods to past loved ones and celebrating their lives.

3. How to wish people on Day of the Dead? 

To greet people on Day of the Dead you can say “Feliz Día de los Muertos” or “Happy Day of the Dead”. 

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