The Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, takes place over the first two days of November. Its origins are a Learn more about the Day of the Dead, celebrated in Mexico during the first two days of November. The holiday involves spending time in cemeteries, making shrines to the dead, and displaying artistic representations of skulls and skeletons and is rather festive. Spanish missionaries introduced All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in the 1500s.mixture of Native American traditions and a set of Catholic holidays. While the holiday's observances include spending time in cemeteries, making shrines to the dead, and displaying artistic representations of skulls and skeletons, the occasion is festive, rather than morbid. Death isn't seen as the end of one's life, but as a natural part of the life cycle; the dead continue to exist much as they did in their lives and come back to visit the living every year. Aztec origins The names of two consecutive twenty-day months on the Aztec calendar, Miccailhuitomi and Miccailhuitl, can be translated as "Feast of the Little Dead Ones" and "Feast of the Adult Dead." Put together, they appear to have formed one long celebration of the dead, moving from those who died as children to those who died when they were older. The Spanish Imposition In the early 1500s, Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernando Cortez, conquered the Aztec Empire, taking over the area we now know as Mexico. They immediately set about trying to convert the native population to Catholicism, for both religious and political reasons. Among the practices introduced by Spanish missionaries were All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, taking place on November 1 and 2, respectively. The conquered Native Americans took the opportunity to incorporate their own traditions for honoring the dead into these two days. The resulting holiday is a unique hybrid of the two. Welcoming the Dead It is generally believed that the souls of one's family return home to join in the Day of the Dead festivities. First those who died in infancy come home, then the older children, and finally those who died once they'd reached adulthood. Families set up altars (or ofrendas) in their homes, festively decorated in bright colors and laden with the favorite foods of their dead. Typically, the altars contain photographs of the dead, representations of things they liked, and items representing the four elements: candles for fire, drinks for water, fruit for earth, and fluttering tissue-paper decorations for wind. The dead take in the essence of the food, which will later be eaten by the living. In some areas, families go to the graveyard to celebrate through the night. They clean and decorate the graves, sometimes setting up ofrendas on the gravestones, as bells are rung.
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