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Holidays Around the World-Día de Muertos

Did you know that Americans spent over eight billion dollars on Halloween in 2016? However, there’s another late-October holiday which many Americans know very little about—Día de Muertos. This Mexican holiday, spread over a three-day period, has family and friends gathering to pray and remember those who have passed. The celebration is designed to aid in the spiritual journey of the departed and celebrate the lives they lived.

This holiday, also called Día de los Muertos here in the United States, was originally celebrated in the beginning of summer. However, it was gradually moved to October 31st – November 2nd to coincide with other Western Christian holidays including All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. In some areas, November 1st is dedicated to children who have passed away and November 2nd is devoted to adults who have died. The roots of Día de Muertos date back to an ancient Aztec Festival.

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Traditions vary around the world, but common practices include building an altar in the home or even in a cemetery to encourage the departed souls to visit. The altar is decorated with brightly colored tablecloths. Family and friends bring gifts such the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased. Framed photos of the departed decorate the altars and families gather to tell stories about the lives of those now gone. Altars are adorned with brightly colored fabrics and display marigolds, candles, fruits, sweets and drinks. Pan de muerto is a type of sweet roll shaped like a large bun and decorated with sugar and pieces of dough shaped like bones. Atole, is a masa drink, often chocolate, that is associated with this holiday. Tequila, Mezcal or a different alcoholic beverage that the deceased enjoyed drinking is brought as an offering to the home or even the cemetery.

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If you are familiar with this holiday at all, the recurring image is a skull featuring brightly colored adornments. A renowned Mexican illustrator named Jose Guadalupe Posada originated this figure in a famous print called La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Skull). This work was originally a parody of a Mexican upper-class female. Catrina was again depicted by Diego Rivera’s mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda) in 1947. These pieces of art represent the attitude in Mexico that death is not something to be feared, but is inevitable and should be celebrated.

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Día de Muertos is a national holiday in Mexico. However, Day of the Dead celebrations take place in countries worldwide including India, The Philippines, Spain, Portugal, France, Belize, Guatemala and the United States. Here in the United States, the more elaborate festivities are primarily in areas where there are larger Mexican-American populations. Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California all celebrate this holiday in their own way including festivals, parades and candlelight processions!

Check back here for more blogs exploring table linens for cultural celebrations around the world.