In many countries around the world, the Day of the Dead holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to memorialize deceased friends and relatives. While the ceremony can be traced back to the indigenous people of North America, the holiday is observed in Mexico, the United States, Spain, Brazil, Asia, and Africa. The event relates to All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day on the Roman Catholic calendar.
The Day of the Dead takes place on the feast days of Nov. 1 and 2.
On Nov. 1, at the break of dawn, the spirited events begin. Relatives of the deceased visit and decorate the graves of loved ones. Offerings will be displayed in homes and in the places of business. Private altars are constructed in the home of the family of the deceased. The altars are decorated with brightly colored marigolds, sugar skulls and angels, and the favorite foods of the deceased.
Graves are marked with flowers, the favorite meal of the deceased, and santos or saintly carvings. Offerings are made throughout the two day long memorial period and toys, candles, paper skeletons, and candy skulls are left at gravesites. Offerings include traditional foods like calabaza entacha (sweet pumpkin dessert) and pan de muerto (sweet bread) in the form of a skull, cross, or skeletons.
On the first day of the vigil, from approximately 5 - 9 a.m., all of the community’s dead children are honored in the ceremony of little angels.
After 9 a.m. mass, families go to the children’s graves and clean them removing stray twigs and weeds. The family members participate in a procession to the gravesites and then leave offerings for the dead as they pray, chant, and play music.
Unlike the ceremony of the little angels which is for dead children, the ceremony for deceased adults takes place at midnight.
Dances are performed before the start of midnight mass. The famous dance of the little old men or la danza de los viejitos is performed by children who are dressed up as old peasant men. Church bells ring all night long to attract souls to the church graveyard and incense is burned in order to help guide dead spirits to the offerings that were placed at the gravesites.
The Day of the Dead takes on many forms dependent upon location. For instance, the Day of the Dead is highlighted by the flying of giant kites in Guatemala. In Brazil, ‘Finados’ (Day of the Dead) takes on a traditional form with community members remembering the dead with visits to graves and church attendance. The Haitians play loud percussion music and partake in all night long celebrations to remember the deceased.
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