What is Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead?

The holiday is held on November 1 and 2.

ByNoelle Brennan WPVI logo
Monday, November 1, 2021
Dive into the history behind the Day of the Dead
EMBED <>More Videos

6abc Discovery has what you should know about Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is an ancient Mexican holiday that takes place on November 1 and 2, when it is believed that spirits of the dead momentarily return to the land of the living.

The holiday dates back some 3,000 years, rooted in the rituals of the Indigenous people of Mexico and Central America. Today, it's a joyous occasion honoring loved ones who have passed with parades, festivals and colorful celebrations all around the world.

The center of the celebration is an altar, or ofrenda, built in homes and cemeteries filled with offerings for the deceased. Food, drinks, and activities that loved ones enjoyed during life are displayed to welcome them back.

But Day of the Dead isn't entirely focused on, well, the dead. It's tradition to give gifts to living loved ones too - gifts like candy, sugar skulls, pan de muertos or 'bread of the dead' - and lighthearted verses in the form of mock epitaphs. These tributes are known as calaveras literarias.

Day of the Dead celebrations are marked by vibrant colors and displays. A staple of the holiday is the image of a skeleton or calavera, which is a symbol of accepting death as natural and nothing to fear. Calaveras appear as sweet treats, parade floats, and dolls during celebrations. They are also shown in fancy clothes, amusing situations or even painted on people's faces.

Mexico holds some of the most authentic Day of the Dead parades, boasting floats, huge skeleton marionettes and thousands of revelers donned in funky makeup and costumes. Styles and customs differ by region, depending on the area's predominant pre-Hispanic culture.

Check your local communities to see if any Day of the Dead celebrations are happening near you!