Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos is a series of commemorative days dedicated to those who have died. It is celebrated generally between Halloween, Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, and coincides with the Catholic holy days of All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov. 2).
Day of the Dead is actually divided into two distinct holidays, the first being Dide los Inocentes, which is dedicated to children on Nov. 1, and Dide los Muertos on Nov. 2, which is the actual Day of the Dead. Both days taken together are collectively referred to as the Day of the Dead, and celebrations can begin as early as Halloween (Oct. 31).
In recent years, the tradition has spread into North America, particularly into communities with large Mexican and Latin American populations. The holiday blends with celebrations across several nations and cultures and draws upon traditions found in other cultures, however the holiday is largely a Mexican development.
Families often come together over this period and preparations can be made during the entire year leading up to the Day of the Dead. This is a solemn occasion, with few actual festivities. Instead, people visit and repair graves of their dearly departed. It is common to light candles, leave offerings of prepared foods, often a favorite meal, and to pray and play music. Private altars are built as focal points for small, private religious observances. Small parties, or wakes, can be held in conjunction with the holidays. Celebrations can sometimes take a humorous tone, particularly if the deceased relative was known to enjoy humor. Poems can be read and public morality plays are sometimes performed.
Parents of deceased children commonly leave offerings of toys on the Day of the Innocents. Small offerings of alcohol are sometimes left for adults. It is easy to see why these celebrations can be heartbreaking, even to outsiders.The skull is a common symbol of the holiday and it is common for women to paint all or one-half of their face with a skull. The half-skull painted on the face, particularly of a youthful woman, represents the brief transition between life and death.
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