Honoring Ancestors and Angelitos: Dia de los Muertos

11/01/2016 11:28 pm ET

While children in the United States wander hand-in-hand with their parents in whimsical costumes on October 31st, families in central and southern Mexico are preparing for the arrival of their ancestors’ spirits on November 2nd, or Dia de los Muertos. Celebrated by indigenous populations around the country, this vibrant holiday is a combination of the Catholic holiday All Saints Day, and the ancient tradition of venerating deceased loved ones. They believe that at midnight on October 31st, the gates of heaven open and the souls of angelitos (deceased children) reunite with their families for 24 hours. Two days later on November 2nd, they are joined by the spirits of the adults, who descend to enjoy the offerings and festivities that their families have prepared.

Certain that their loved ones would be offended by grief and mourning, families in Latin America engage with their ancestors’ spirits in lively festivities that include food, drink, and activities that the dead enjoyed in their lifetime. This beautiful celebration acknowledges death as a natural part of the human experience, and cherishes the memory of the deceased through a joyous commemoration of their life.

To hearken the arrival of the angelitos and ancestors, families prepare elaborate altars or ofrendas adorned with candles, fruit, nuts, tortillas, marigolds, and a special bread called pan de muerto. Toys, candy, and sweet breads are left for the children spirits, and on November 2nd the adults enjoy cigarettes and mezcal. Skeletons and skulls called calacas and calaveras appear as masks and dolls, positioned in entertaining situations and fancy clothes.

Along with these elaborate ofrendas, parades and festivals unite women in cavalera make-up, mariachi musicians, children in costume, and extended families. These festivities are lively affairs where people share stories of their loved ones and welcome the spirits of the deceased to join them in the celebrations. As the tradition spread from central and southern Mexico to the United States, towns and cities in Texas Arizona began hosting similar festivals. For example, Austin enjoys its annual Viva La Vida hosted by the Mexic-Arte Museum festival on October 29th, and residents can also attend an afternoon of history and entertainment at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

El Dia de los Muertos is a vibrant holiday that invites families to keep the memory of their loved ones alive, and unites communities through centuries-old. Read more about the history and celebration of this holiday or see whether your area hosts Dia de los Muertos events, and experience more of this fascinating Mexican tradition.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Amanda Alden is a cross-cultural communications intern with Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is currently a senior at St. Edward’s University, majoring in Global Studies with concentrations in Europe and International Business, and minoring in French. Feel free to connect with Amanda at https://www.linkedin.com/in/amandamalden.

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