7 questions you were too embarrassed to ask about Dia de Muertos

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  • What is Day of the Dead?  Día de Muertos — as it’s known in Mexico — is a holiday that remembers and honors our deceased loved ones. The holiday has roots in both the indigenous cultures of Mexico and the Catholic faith. Centuries ago, the natives of Mexico had monthlong celebrations to honor and celebrate the dead. When the Spanish conquered Mexico and brought Christianity to the natives, they observed these pagan practices. As part of Christianizing and enculturating the people of Mexico, Spain’s evangelizers moved them to the Catholic Calendar — All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  This is why Mexico celebrates these two feast days differently than any other part of the Catholic world.
  • How is it celebrated in Mexico?  Most people in Mexico spend the holiday with family.  Families clean the gravesites of their deceased loved ones and put out food and drink on their graves and on their ofrendas, or altars. The belief is that on Día de Muertos, the souls of the departed are allowed to come back to visit us, and families “host” them with their favorite food, drinks and items they loved in life. For example, if your deceased grandfather loved tamales and a good tequila, those items would be placed out for him to enjoy on Día de Muertos. Ofrendas contain photos of the deceased, along with flowers and candles to help souls find their way to you by way of sight and smell.
  • How is it celebrated in San Antonio? Locally, many families and groups have been celebrating this holiday for generations. However, the Day of the Dead River Parade will make it the largest celebration in Texas. As it has been done for years, there will be special masses at most Catholic churches across San Antonio on this holiday. For many in San Antonio, this will be their first time celebrating! For others, it is a deep-rooted tradition that has happened in their homes for years. There are also organizations across San Antonio that have held annual celebrations over the years.
  • What’s the deal with all the skeletons? Skulls and skeletons represent death, but they are not scary like Americans view them for Halloween. Skulls and skeletons in Mexico are bright, colorful and quite pretty!
  • Is the holiday just one day? No. Despite its name, Día de Muertos begins after midnight on Oct. 31 and ends on Nov. 2. On Nov. 1, people typically celebrate the lives of deceased children and Nov. 2 celebrates the lives of all souls who have passed.
  • What’s the mood for the holiday? Day of the Dead is a joyous, happy event! It is not somber, sad or solemn. The tone of the holiday is celebratory, yet respectful. It’s heartwarming and cheerful, with a focus on love of family and one’s ancestors.
  • It seems like the holiday has grown in popularity recently. Is this true? There has been a noticeable increase in the marketing and commercialization of the holiday in recent years. Many of the traditions of the Mexican people have been adopted and changed in areas across the world and especially here in the U.S. Critics argue the sanctity of the holiday is being diminished in the process while others feel the evolution of the holiday is inevitable, as interest in Día de Muertos grows across the world.