Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an ancient Aztec celebration in memory of deceased ancestors, and is founded on the Aztec belief that life is considered to be a dream, and when you die, you awake to your real life. It occurs on November 1st and 2nd (All Saints & All Souls day). While it would be easy to quickly compare it to Halloween, the two celebrations are completely different. During these two days, pictures of the deceased are placed on Dia De Los Muertos altars along with their favourite food and drink. Trinkets and other symbols that they were fond of are left to communicate with them, candles are placed to light the way home and sometimes even soap and water to freshen up and blankets for them to rest on after their long trip back from the dead are placed at the altar. Plans are made throughout the year to decide on the offerings. Rather than being a time of scary things happening, such as Halloween, it is a time of joy used to communicate that even though they are not physically present, they are still part of the family.
We were in Mexico City during the celebrations of Dia De Los Muertos and altars and decorations were scattered all throughout the city. Peoples homes, museums, restaurants, etc had altars set up inside them, the Zocalo was scattered with different offerings to various groups of people, altars were made up for peoples pets. Our friend, Gerardo, who lives in Mexico City gave us and friends back home in the United States some small sugar skulls which can be given to both the living and the dead. Marigold flowers are used as offerings and found all over the place, along with Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) which was being baked in brick ovens in the Zocalo. It was definitely an eye catching experience and always interesting to see all the different designs of the altars with their various offerings.