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Day of the Dead - A true celebration of life


Some people think "Day of the Dead" - Dia de Muertos, is a Mexican version of Halloween, but it's not. Whereas Halloween is a night of terror and mischief, - you can read my post about where Halloween comes from - Day of the Dead festivities is an explosion of colour, a feast for the senses and life-affirming joy. It’s celebrated on 1st and 2nd of November in Mexico. The theme is death, but the point it's to demonstrate love and respect for family members who passed away and are not with us anymore. They celebrate it with parades and parties, singing and dancing and making offerings to lost loved ones in colourful altars, "ofrendas".


The centrepiece of the celebration is an altar, or ofrenda, built-in private homes and cemeteries. These altars are meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. As such, they’re loaded with offerings, family photos, water to satisfy the thirst after the long journey and a candle for each dead relative. It’s a tradition to put in the alter their favourite meal of food, Pan de Muerto, Mexican sweets in the form of sugar skulls, chocolate, tamales, mole and any special object that in life the family member enjoyed the most.

The main flowers used to decorate the altar are Marigolds, “cempasúchil”, scattered from the altar to gravesite, the petals guide wandering souls back to their place of rest.

They believe that when you die, you are not in human life anymore, but you start to live the dead life. This is very well explained in the fabulous Disney movie COCO. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend watching it with your kids.

Calavera means “skull.” But during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Calavera was used to describe short, humorous poems, which were often sarcastic tombstone epitaphs published in newspapers that poked fun at the living. These literary Calaveras eventually became a popular part of Día de Los Muertos celebrations.

In the early 20th century, Mexican political cartoonist and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada created an etching to accompany a literary Calavera. Posada dressed his personification of death in fancy French garb intending it as a social commentary on Mexican society’s emulation of European sophistication. “Todos Somos Calaveras,” a quote commonly attributed to Posada, means “we are all skulls.” Underneath all our humanmade trappings, we are all the same, skeletons.

In 1947 artist Diego Rivera featured Posada’s stylized skeleton in his masterpiece mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.” Posada’s skeletal bust was dressed in a large feminine hat, and Rivera made his female and named her Catrina, slang for “the rich.” Today, the Calavera Catrina, or elegant skull, is the Day of the Dead’s most ubiquitous symbol.



Day of the Dead is an extremely social holiday that spills into streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night. Dressing up as skeletons is part of the fun. People of all ages have their faces artfully painted to resemble skulls, and, mimicking the Calavera Catrina.



Papel Picado – “Pierced paper” or Mexican streamers

Since Aztec times, it was used to make offerings to the gods in temples. At that time they made the paper with tree barks, but when the Spaniards arrived, it was changed to Chinese paper. The flags represent the wind and the fragility of life.

Each colour has its meaning. Orange represented mourning for the Aztecs and purple in the Catholic religion. Blue for those who died because of the water, red for the warriors and women who died in childbirth, green for the young, yellow for the elderly, and white for the children. Black is said not to be used because it symbolizes the underworld.


From DuckDuckGooseFun here is a video about how to make Papel Picado (Mexican streamers) https://youtu.be/Yehg_6OuQLI

I hope you'd like this way of celebrating this celebration of life afterlife. I'm not Mexican, but I very much like this colourful way and all the meaning to honour our family relatives that are not in this world anymore.


Remember to visit or Fun Halloween page with ideas, crafts and more!



Happy Day of the Dead!

Read, imagine, create and play!



Wolols Publishing Pte Ltd - Singapore - María Vergara  

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Maria Vergara is member of the SCBWI

Maria Vergara is member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

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