The History & Traditions of Dia De Los Muertos

Día de los Muertos translates to “Day of the Dead”, but this holiday is actually all about celebrating life! Many of us have fond, technicolor memories of joining our families every year on the first and second day of November to honor and celebrate our ancestors.  

The entire festival is a joyful occasion filled with music, dancing, costumes and makeup, festive food, parades, and decorative tributes to those who came before us. Whether you’ve been celebrating Dia de los Muertos since you were a toddler or you’re getting ready for your first celebration, here are a few things you’ll love about the holiday and its history! 

Where did Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Originate?

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has origins dating back three millennia to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess of death and the underworld named Mictēcacihuātl. (WHOA, right?!)

The Aztec culture believed death was transitory, and that the souls of the dead could return to visit the living. With that in mind, death and our ancestors became a point of pride and celebration: the Aztecs celebrated Mictēcacihuātl's return in the summer with festivals and ceremonial dances to honor her and seek protection for those who died. When Spanish colonizers arrived in the 16th century, they moved Dia de Muertos from the summer to November 1 and 2, so it would coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

How Dia De Los Muertos is Celebrated Today?

Dia de los Muertos fiestas, or Day of the Dead festivities, have evolved over the years to become the unique tradition it is now. You might remember preparing for the holiday with trips to the florist, market, and tailor — Flowers, altars, costumes, and music are all integral parts of the holiday. And who could forget the food?!

All of our Dia de los Muertos traditions carry special meaning and significance for this beautiful celebration. Here are a few of the MexiCrate team’s favorite Dia de los Muertos practices! 

Ofrendas to Honor the Dead

The creation of an ofrenda, or altar, is an important part of Día de los Muertos. The altar is believed to be a portal from which a deceased person can cross back into the world of the living. 

Typically the ofrenda includes photos, personal items of the loved one, candles, flowers, and lots of their favorite foods, including their favorite Mexican candies. Whether it’s the spicy tamarindo flavor or the soft and sugary flavor of mazapan, these delicious candies cannot be forgotten by the living or the dead — and represent an incredible way to connect not only with our ancestors, but with our culture as a whole. 

Papel Picado Decorations

One of the many things that give this celebration color and joy is the papel picado, a colorful thin paper banner with patterned cutouts. The delicate banners are strung around the altar, representing the delicate nature of life. The cutout patterns in the paper are said to allow souls to pass through as spirits travel between their altars and the land of the dead. 

Marigolds (Flor de cempasúchil) Guide Spirits

Another important Day of the Dead symbol is the marigold. These bright orange flowers are often placed on the ofrenda and around burial sites, but they’re also used as décor throughout the holiday. The flowers’ pungent scent and bright color are meant to guide spirits back to their living relatives’ homes. Plus, they’re simply gorgeous and add to the colorful flair of Dia de los Muertos celebrations. 

Sugar Skulls

As you might expect with a festival that celebrates life and death, skulls are one of the most prominent symbols of Dia de los Muertos. But did you know this tradition harks back to the Aztec era? 

During rituals, Aztecs used skulls as a symbol of victory — taken as trophies during battles, these skulls were a way to honor the energy and vitality of one’s enemies as well as the valor and sacrifice of one’s allies. Today, during Dia de Los Muertos, small, decorated sugar skulls are placed on the altars as an offering to the dead and given out as treats. But don't worry, there is nothing scary about these skulls. They are decorated with colorful edible paint, glitter, and beads and sport huge smiles.

Día de los Muertos celebrations may have evolved over the years, but almost everyone can agree this happy holiday is the perfect occasion to honor family and tradition — and celebrate with your favorite Mexican candies! And, of course, that’s where the MexiCrate team comes in. Whether you’re looking for spicy, sweet, sour, or salty, our variety of candy boxes are perfect for decorations, gifts, or favors. 

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