Celebrating the Day of the Dead
Many have associated Day of the Dead's openness with the dead with the spookiness of Halloween and though there are correlations, Day of the Dead is a far more spiritual celebration than North American Halloween.
The tradition can be celebrated in a variety of ways, the most common being with food and drink (like any other celebration) and has deep roots in pre-contact Aztec culture.
The indigenous people of pre-Hispanic Mexico believed the souls of their deceased loved ones return to their families once a year so that their lives can be celebrated.
The first day of the holiday, November 1st, focuses on children who have died and is more somber than the second day, which commemorates the lives of deceased adults.
Even though it was an indigenous celebration well before the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 1500s, after Catholicism was introduced the official holiday was established on Nov. 1 and 2 to coincide with All Saints' Day.
Friends and family celebrate at cemeteries, where graves are adorned with the traditional flower of the dead - the bright marigold, or zempasuchitl. Decorated candy sugar skulls that represent the physical presence of death also bedeck the altars and gravestones of loved ones, and can be spotted in most public places around the holiday.
Brightly colored tissue paper cutouts, or papel picado, decorate cemeteries as well as the homes of the deceased person's family as a signal to the soul that festivities await them on earth. The most significant offerings, though, are the food and beverages that people put on the altars; the deceased's favorite beer, candy and street foods are put on display while those keeping vigil often enjoy more traditional foods.
In more rural areas of Mexico and Central America the family will actually go to the grave site of the deceased and dance and feast in the cemetery. There the headstones will be decorated with marigold flowers, and all types of food including candied skulls.
With the growing Hispanic influence in the United States more and more areas in North America are embracing the tradition. In the European culture, that is the predecessor of American and Canadian cultures, death is not something that is embraced much less even talked about. Incorporating Day of Dead views of the deceased may be a new and perhaps healthier way of dealing with our ghosts.