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Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.

The Day of the Dead activities actually span several days, beginning late at night on October 31st, when the spirits of dead children (angelitos) start arriving, followed by adult spirits sometime during November 1st (All Saint’s Day). They leave, after joining in a family meal, on November 2nd (All Soul’s Day). Although exact times for the spirits’ entrances vary from pueblo to pueblo, the angelitos always arrive ahead of the adults.

For foreigners, the traditions and celebrations in Mexican homes and cemeteries during the Day of the Dead seem strange, if not incomprehensible. There is mourning and rejoicing; sadness and silliness – woven together into one emotional fabric.

Mexicans have a distinctly different view of themselves in the afterlife. First, you keep your identity, since to return to this world for the Day of the Dead, you must remain who you were. This explains the profusion of skeletons (calacas) of all sizes, doing ordinary day-to-day things. If uncle José was a barber, he continues as a barber after death. Placing a skeleton figure of a barber on your altar reaffirms to uncle José that he has not been forgotten on his spiritual return.

Throughout the year, but especially during the Day of the Dead season, calacas, or skeletons, are displayed in shops throughout the city. In the markets, for a few pesos each, you’ll find cardboard, wire and cotton-ball figures depicting nearly every walk of life. The more upscale folk art stores display elaborate ceramic and paper mache calacas, individually signed by renowned Mexican folk artists.

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