Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos is a Mexican holiday that takes place over two days on 1st and 2nd November. So, whilst many Halloween celebrations are finishing on 31st October, the Day of the Dead is just beginning.
The practice of celebrating the dead goes back thousands of years in South American cultures and is traditionally for families to welcome the spirits on their return home. The Aztecs held an elaborate month-long celebration of the dead for people to honour their ancestors. Today, the holiday remains an opportunity for communities to come together to honour and remember beloved friends and relatives who have died.
Parades, feasts, dancing, vigils, decoration of homes and cemeteries, altars and numerous other manifestations accompany this event. Many of the customs and features of today's celebration are remnants of ancient rituals.
For instance, sugar skulls with names written on them are popular, and derived from the fact that the Aztecs kept skulls of their loved ones and forefathers. Many Mexicans visit cemeteries to lay flowers and decorate tombs. The marigold is the flower of the dead, due to its colour, and they are used to attract the spirits who are believed to visit their old haunts.
An altar with the favourite food and drink of the departed is placed in the home and is usually decorated with photographs and items which were cherished alongside the iconic sugar skulls and marigolds. Traditional food is also made for the day including Pan de Muerto - translated as Bread of the Dead - which creates a welcoming aroma around the home.
Celebrations have become huge in recent years, resulting in tourists visiting Mexico to soak in the culture. Perhaps somewhat closer to home, the traditional Day of the Dead festival is a great opportunity for organisations like Dying Matters to bring communities together and get more people talking about dying and end of life issues.