Day of the Dead

In the quanint old town section of Petaluma, CA storefronts are given over to be transformed into memorial altars. This one was created to honor an eight year old pet turkey that had passed away. Altars can be created to remember people, animals and things. (©Skyfeather Studio)

In the quaint town of Petaluma, California, storefronts are transformed into memorial altars during the month of October and into November. This altar was created to honor an eight year old pet turkey who had passed away and included feathers, eggs, photos, and her favorite food. Altars can be made for remembering people, animals, and/or anything lost that is being grieved and celebrated.
(Photo: ©Skyfeather Studio)

El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a traditional Latin American holiday celebrated by joyfully remembering and welcoming the spirits of loved ones that have passed away. It is believed that the souls of the dead return to their families and communities once a year during El Día de los Muertos to renew the bonds of family, friendship and devotion. Departed children (angelitos) return November 1st and are welcomed with favorite toys and miniature offerings of food while the adults wait to be celebrated on November 2nd. It is a time to gather together for a “family reunion” rejoining those in the material world with those who have passed over into the spirit world.

Loved ones are honored with altars (ofrendas) traditionally decorated with offerings of paper flowers, marigolds, sugar skulls (calaveras), candles, water, incense, photos, bread, fruit and other memorabilia. Female skeleton figures (Catrinas) made of paper mache lend a bit of humor and whimsy to the display. Skeleton characters can also be of men, animals, birds or other beings. Colorful paper cut-outs (papel picado) representing the sky are strung above the altar. The altars are created in homes, at gravesites or anywhere that feels like a sacred and honored place. The festivities include processions, music, singing and noise makers loud enough to “wake the dead”. It is believed that the scent and smoke from the burning of incense and candles will help guide the returning souls. The brightly colored and strong scent of marigold flowers is thought to assist spirits in finding their way from the grave back to their welcoming homes. It is a time to gather together in the cemeteries to respectfully tidy the grounds before beautifully decorating it for the night in which many of the living will stay overnight to be close to their departed ones.

El Día de los Muertos is a colorful festival which treats death as simply a transformation. It also serves as a reminder of the fleeting time we have here on this earth and gives reassurance that we too will be remembered and celebrated after we are gone. It is a beautiful ritual of honoring the ancestors and the importance of passing down the legacy of remembrance from generation to generation.

-Singing Luna

Sources and for more information:

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