day of the dead painted skulls

A vendor displays colorful painted skulls for the Day of the Dead festival at the Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Mexico. (Photo: Richard Ellis / Alamy)

Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and acknowledged around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. In 2008 the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a public holiday. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer. It was moved to October 31, November 1 and November 2 to coincide with the Roman Catholic triduum festival of Allhallowtide: All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day.Traditions

connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The holiday has spread throughout the world, being absorbed within other deep traditions for honoring the dead. It happens to be a holiday that has become a national symbol and as such is taught (for educational purposes) in the nation’s schools, but there are families who are more inclined to celebrate a traditional “All Saints Day” associated with the Catholic Church.