Latin Americans celebrate a holiday every year where they honor their dead by decorating skulls. The holiday focuses on the gathering of family and friends to remember people that were close to them.
The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos), is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and by Latin Americans living in the United States and Canada. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Celebrations occur on November 2 in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Due to occurring shortly after Halloween, the Day of the Dead is sometimes thought to be a similar holiday, although the two actually have little in common. The Day of the Dead is a time of celebration, where partying is common.
The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. Festivities were dedicated to the god known as the “Lady of the Dead,” corresponding to the modern Catrina. In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 mainly as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) but also as “Día de los Angelitos” (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2 as “Día de los Muertos” or “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Dead).
People go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and stories about the departed. Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the 3-day period, families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with offerings, which often include orange Mexican marigold which is a bouquet usually consisting of 20 or so flowers.
In many American communities with Mexican populations, Day of the Dead celebrations are held which are very similar to those held in Mexico. In some of these communities, such as in Texas and Arizona celebrations tend to be mostly traditional. For example, the All Souls’ Procession has been an annual Tucson event since 1990. The event combines elements of traditional Dia de los Muertos celebrations with those of pagan harvest festivals. People wearing masks carry signs honoring the dead and an urn in which people can put slips of paper with prayers on them to be burned.
Therefore, the day of dead brings families together to remember the people that were close to them.