As told by Israel...
If you have ever been to a Mexican party there is always plenty of food, drinks, family, music, dancing, and if you stick around until the end there are usually laughs and tears. This is no different, except that we do it in a cemetery.
Día de los muertos begins when the clock strikes midnight on November 1st and the spirits of deceased children reunite with their loved ones for 24 hours. The festivities continue when adult spirits make the long pilgrimage to join in on November 2nd. Día de los muertos is not a celebración--it’s a family reunion.
We build ofrendas, or altars. The word ofrendas literally translates to “offers,” and that's exactly what we do. We offer family food and drink and spend time with them. Specific items help each spirit find their party. Apart from placing the items that our loved ones enjoyed when they walked this earth, such as a favorite keepsake or favorite foods, it is traditional to place candles, marigold flowers, sugar skulls, water, pan de muerto (bread for the dead), and fruit all on the ofrenda as well.
The candles and marigolds are to light their path to us, just like you would light a path in your backyard to show your guests where to walk. The calaveras (sugar skulls) represent each spirit; they are a symbol that you still remember them and that you want them here. Think of them as e-vites. Water is for them to drink--the passage has been long. The pan de muerto is for the spirits to eat--their journey has been difficult. The bread is usually very aromatic because even though spirits can’t actually eat, they can absorb its essence. (It’s hard to burn off those calories--even when you’re dead!) The fruit is also there for them to eat (a good alternative to the bread).
None of this, of course, would be possible without her--La Catrina, The Dame. La Catrina’s head was first illustrated by Jose Guadalupe Posada, but it was Diego Rivera that gave us the rest of her. She is fully depicted on his Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central mural. She is the referential image of Death in Mexico. We taunt her with silly costumes, songs and poems. But we do not forget that she is a neutralizing force that walks among us.
Many parts of the world celebrate day of the dead, like the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Central and South America, with us. I say with us, because no one parties like we do. Mexico is the only place on earth that has the type of iconic festivities that we do.
Despite me trying to keep it light. Day of the Dead has a very special meaning to me, my family and my country. As humans, we try to distance ourselves from our mortality. We empty it out, we make it sterile, and we put flowers around it. We can’t even call it by it’s true name so we say things like “passed away”, “no longer with us,” or “they are in a better place.” Underneath it all, it’s still death. On día de los muertos we remember the people that were part of our lives. But we also celebrate death; she demands respect and attention, because if there is one thing we are born with, it’s death.
Fiesta es de los mexicanos. The party is Mexican, but you are invited.