Día de Muertos is the time when the deceased are allowed to return to the land of the living and visit with family and friends. Families will visit graveyards to visit recently passed family and friends. Many homes will have an altar so the deceased family and friends can eat a bit of food and drink a bit while visiting.
The origins of Día de Muertos predate the the arrival of the Spaniards. Many indigenous cultures buried their dead under their homes or near by, many of these tombs had altars for offerings. Día de Muertos is also associated by some with the Aztec Gods, Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, King and Queen of Mictlán, a land of the dead.
After the Spanish conquest, the beliefs of the indigenous merged with new Catholic faith. November 1st, according to Catholic tradition is "All Saints Day" or Todos los Santos. Children and infants come to visit on this day. The day is known as "Day of the Innocents" or Día de los Inocentes and sometimes as "Day of the Little Angels", or Día de los Angelitos. Usually families will leave a little trail of marigold flower petals leading from the road into the house and altar. The angelitos altar will have the child's favorite foods and candies, favorite toy and perhaps a new toy. The family will eat tamales and favorite foods and welcome the child home.
November 2nd, according to Catholic tradition is "All Souls Day" or Fieles Difuntos. Fieles Difuntos, also known as Día de los Difuntos, is the day that all departed can return to visit the world of the living. Families visit grave sites or have an altar or both. Families will literally set up a table, bring chairs and have a picnic, chat, perhaps friends might drop by at the grave site of their deceased family member. Home altars will have favorite foods and drinks of the deceased. If you are visiting Mexico this is the day to visit a cemetery, the evenings are by far a busier time and the time you should go.
Halloween and Día de Muertos are two different holidays. Halloween is scary with witches and spiders. Día de Muertos is the time when the deceased can visit living family and friends. There is sorrow to the event but there is also joy that the family can be together again. Christmas and Easter are two different holiday, so are Halloween and Día de Muertos.
Some people celebrate the Day of the Dead with a few extra days. October 28th is the day for those who died accidentally; the 29th for those who drowned; the 30th for women who died in child birth and the 31th for children and teenagers.
If you come to Puerto Escondido Oaxaca during Día de Muertos and you have an interest in the holiday, I would highly recommend a tour with Gina Machorro who can be found at her tourist booth on the Adoquín. I have been on the tour, she explains how to make an altar and meaning of the objects used.
I enjoyed the American 3D computer-animated fantasy film Coco produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. A nice way of showing and explaining the theme of Día de Muertos to children.
The image to the right or above (depends on the size of your screen) is of Gina Machorro decorating a grave of a friend of hers in Puerto Escondido. The image at the bottom of the page is a couple make an arch for an altar. An altar like the lady is making will cost you less than 200 pesos or U.S. $10 (Nov. 2017).
Photos taken by Marc Wilkinson. I, the copyright holder, hereby publish these photos under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).