Day of the Dead Celebration: Michoacan, Mexico (6:46)
Day of the Dead--El Día de los Muertos, in Spanish--is above all a celebration of life.
In much of Latin America and the U.S., as the first days of November approach people assemble offerings to the spirits of departed family members, friends, and cultural icons.
Such an offering typically includes, in addition to a picture of the deceased, flowers and religious symbols and some of the things that s/he enjoyed in life.
Favorite foods are likely to be there. An offering for a drinker might have a bottle of his favorite beer or liquor, along with a glass to enjoy it.
Because, you see, this is the time when the spirits of the dead return for a visit.
In some places it is said that the first day of November is for those who died in childhood, and the second day is when the older souls make their appearance. October's final days can each have significance, too.
As with so many age-old spiritual practices, there is a strong syncretic dimension to these rituals.
During the European invasion the Catholic solemnities of All Saints' and All Souls' Day, long celebrated on the first days of November, met face-to-skull with indigenous people's tributes to their dead celebrated at the same time of year.
The practices of Mayan, Aztec, and other groups had flavors that were new to 16th-century Europeans--notably, the use of skulls.
Pictures of skeletons (such as the famous José Guadalupe Posada print behind this text), candy skulls, cut-paper and papier-mâché skeleton figures: all these are part and parcel of the spectacle and humor that accompanies Day of the Dead.
This webguide leads to many types of materials related to Day of the Dead: books, current news items, videos, websites, and more. If something's missing please do share your suggestions. Contact information is on the next page.
Image: La Catrina, by José Guadalupe Posada.
This rich guide to Day of the Dead includes history, explanatory photos, teaching ideas, and more.
ESL Partyland's Day of the Dead resources for students includes a fine collection of links.*
Images and information concerning José Guadalupe Posada are at this exceptional site.
The Jean Charlot Collection of the University of Hawai'i, Manoa Library has images online.
*Thanks to the kids of Ms. Plasse's class at Green Mountain Central School District, VT