Mexican Day of the Dead: Traditions, Calacas and Legacy
I love celebrating Mexican Day of the Dead. Although I am not Mexican, I did grow up in Southern California – a area rich with the beautiful Mexican culture. Including the traditions, calacas and legacy that is this colorful holiday. But as a true bicultural family, that is about to change.
Mexican Day of the Dead – Traditions
Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated in much of Latin America. Its legacy begins in Aztec times of what is now the country of Mexico, and became the modern day celebration that aligns with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). Its purpose is to honor our ancestors and the loved ones who have departed this earth, in hopes that their souls come back to visit us.
Traditions of Mexican Day of the Dead include building altars for loved ones and offering gifts of sugar skulls, pan de muerto, other favorite foods and small trinkets. Visits to the loved ones graves also occur. Jovial, light-hearted moments are traditional, as remembrance of loved ones occurs in a positive light. The calavera, or skull, is common of the Mexican holiday. Faces are painted in beautiful displays of calacas (skeletons), which has become the symbol of Day of the Dead. These symbols are often depicted fully dressed and in a joyous manner, rather than in mourning. Exact traditions vary within parts of Mexico, but Día de los Muertos is a national holiday in which the country’s government is closed.
Dia De Los Muertos Symbolism
The depiction of calaveras or calacas (skulls/skeletons) using masks was once the primary method of celebration and decoration. The use of makeup to create unique and exquisite manifestations has become prevalent though. In addition, flowers are symbolic in Day of the Dead celebrations. The strong scented marigold flower, know as the flower of the dead, helps guide the souls of the departed.
Paper flowers are commonly used as decoration in Day of the Dead celebrations, and they are surprisingly very easy to make. Flowers are also typically incorporated in face painting designs. We made the paper flowers in Alina’s hair (as well as the papel picado in the background). And while I’m sure some might think a photo shoot with a kid might seem crazy, I want to remind you that Day of the Dead is a real holiday celebrated in Latin American countries, much like Halloween is celebrated here in the States.
Legacy of the Departed
There are several reasons why I have fallen in love with this holiday and the celebrations that accompany it. First, it is so beautiful! I adore the vibrant colors and the exquisite designs of calacas, altars and ofrendas. Calaca and calavera design has become an artform that I simply cannot get enough of these days. I am also very intrigued by the holiday’s fundamental belief in honoring death in a joking manner. I’ve just never viewed the passing of a loved one like that. Mostly however, the element of remembering our departed and honoring their lives is what has touched my heart so deeply. Día de los Muertos gives me the opportunity to remember my grandfather, and a reason to tell his story to my children. He would be so flipping crazy in love with my babies, and wishing he were here to smother them with his amor is something my heart yearns for everyday. I love that on this holiday, I am purposed to remember him.
As a true bicultural family, I am super excited to celebrate our first Día de los Muertos this week! Today we celebrate the traditional American Halloween, then on the 1st and 2nd, we will embrace the Latino holiday of Día de los Muertos.
So, Vegas, how about it? Care to join in the fun with us? There are a couple events happening around town and I would love to see how you are celebrating Day of the Dead! One of the events is being held at Springs Preserve. Tag your Instagram photos with #BuildYourLegacy to share with our community how you are celebrating Mexican Day of the Dead! Or, always feel free to email me if you have questions.