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Day of the Dead: Four things you may not know about the celebration

The skulls may fool you, but the festival is a celebration of life

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 02 November 2022 12:39 GMT
(AFP/Getty Images)

November 1 marked the start of the Día de Muertos festival, a time of celebration and remembrance of friends and family who have died and embarked on their spiritual journey through the afterlife.

The two-day festival stems from the continuation of ancient Aztec rituals meant to honour those who had died. During the festival, people are encouraged to gather and pray to help those who have departed on their spiritual paths.

During the festival, families and communities gather to hold vigils and parties in honour of those they’ve lost. They decorate altars to commemorate the deceased, often decorating those altars with the deceased’s favourite foods or personal items, with the hopes that spirits will bless the loved ones.

Here are some things you may not know about the Day of the Dead festival.

It’s not <strong>Halloween</strong>, and it’s not supposed to scare anyone

While the subject is understandably upsetting for many, people celebrating this festival tend to leverage symbols of death alongside a point of death that there is humour in death. Festival celebrators tend to believe that death is something that should be celebrated in a lively way, and not something to be afraid of.

The serious tone of Day of the Dead is accompanied by rich and colourful decorations. The carnivalesque atmosphere, and the sugar skulls, are a representation of the belief that death is simply a continuation of the life cycle.

The festival is primarily celebrated in Mexico, but can be seen in many parts of Latin America

The Mexican festivities are by far the best known, but Mexican communities in America and South America also take the time to celebrate death each year.

In the Philippines, families are known to spend the night in graveyards playing cards and drinking.

The festival is also seen celebrated in Brazil, Ecuador, and Belize. Those individual celebrations tend to have their own small variations on the celebration as a whole.

The colours of the skull and face paints have specific meanings

Yellow represents sun and unity because — under the sun — we are all the same.

White is used to depict the spirit, and purity.

Red represents life, or, more specifically, the blood of life.

Purple represents the understandable mourning that is felt by those who lose loved ones.

Pink signifies happiness.

Flowers, butterflies, and skulls represent are used as symbols

The scent of the Marigold is thought to help lead spirits back from the cemetery to their family homes. Monarch butterflies are thought to represent the soul of the departed. Sugar skulls aren’t morbid, they’re a representation of the cyclicality of life as we know it.

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