Day of the Dead
On October 31, and November 1 and 2, the Mexican people celebrate their loved ones who have passed on. The best way to describe this Mexican holiday is to say that it is a time when Mexican families remember their dead and at the same time, the continuity of life.
An important thing to know about the Mexican Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is that it is a holiday with a complex history, and therefore its observance varies quite a bit by region and by degree of urbanization. It is not a morbid occasion, but rather a festive time. Generally speaking, the holiday's activities consist of families welcoming their dead back into their homes, and also visiting the graves of their departed loved ones. At the cemetery, family members clean up the gravesite, decorate it with flowers, and set out and enjoy a picnic while visiting with other family and community members who gather there. In both cases, celebrants believe that the souls of the dead, the ánimas, return and are all around them.
The traditional observance calls for departed children to be remembered Oct. 31, the Day of the Little Angels, or Día de los Angelitos, and for adults to be remembered on Nov. 1, Day of the Dead. Nov. 2 is for all the souls, and is called All Saints, or Todos los Santos.
In the markets Lucas de Galvez and San Benito you will find colored candles that are used to decorate the altars, and sugar skulls with names on the foreheads that are also used. Both the candles and the skulls are unique to this time of year.
"The 'Day of the Dead' celebrations in Mexico have their roots in pre-Columbian Aztec and other native festivals memorializing the dead, which mixed with the Roman Catholic All Saint's and All Soul's Days imported by Spanish conquistadors. On the Day of the Dead, departed friends and family return from the land of the dead (officially purgatory or heaven but originally the Underworld) to visit with the living for a short time. The living welcome these visitors happily and prepare special offerings on the family altar, or ofrendas, which is usually located in the home but often in the local parish chapel or outside the family cemetery. The ofrendas is laden with incense, candles, water, food (especially sweets), flowers, cigarettes, and liquor--providing a deliberately sensory experience for the dead, who are assumed to be deprived of such things in the afterlife."
Taylor, Richard P. Death and the Afterlife: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2000.