Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday which honors and celebrates the deceased. It is practiced all over Mexico and recently has gained popularity around the globe, but the epicenter of the cultural festival is in Oaxaca. The holiday is a perfect example of the blending of the Catholic religion and indigenous mysticism which has formed unique beliefs that manifest into beautiful traditions.
The festivities are based upon the belief that the spirits of the dearly departed return at certain times between October 30th through November 2nd. Families honor their dead by building altars which feature photos of their loved ones along with a beautiful mix of ofrendas, or offerings. Typical offerings include flowers, the sweet decorated bread called pan de muerto, candles, tamales de mole, chocolate, mandarin oranges, peanuts and mezcal. Each altar will vary based on the particular tastes of the deceased. From candy to tobacco, all the treats favored by the dead will make an appearance.
After the spirits of the dead visit the homes of their families, they travel to the cemetery, where their loved ones have taken the time to clean and decorate their graves, with flowers, candles, fruits, religious objects and other offerings. On the night when the spirits are believed to travel to the cemetery, their families accompany them, and gather graveside with picnics and beer to spent the night in the company of their dead.
While grief is inevitably a part of the process, the general ambiance is celebratory. Bands play, glasses of mezcal are refilled, and stories are swapped over the bones of their ancestors. It is a beautiful ritual which at once celebrates life while honoring the dead. Dia de los Muertos brings together a community over the realities of grief and death, something that is shared but so often a private affair in other cultures. It is an unmatched balance between darkness and light.