I'm quite sure I may have gotten some of the facts wrong as this holiday isn't something I've seen until coming to southern California which has a large Mexican population. It's quite fascinating and I'm learning!
Mexican's celebrate Dia de los Muertos with altars dedicated to their loved ones in the belief that at midnight on November 1st the spirits of the deceased can return to them.
Marigolds are traditionally the flower of the dead and can be used to line a path from the grave to the family doorstep as a way to direct the spirits home…. and the scent of the marigold is meant to draw the spirits home.
While altars are traditionally done by each family for their family members, public altars can erected for specific groups of deceased people… like this simple altar for the people who attempt to illegally cross the desert in to the United States from South America and die in the desert.
The family altars hold some traditional elements… like seasonal fruits … pan de muerto is a traditional bread… the spirits will be hungry when they arrive.
The altars showcase photographs of the family members, some of their belongings, and any religious artifacts that were special to them.
Family members lovingly erect these tributes to their deceased and seem anxious to talk about their loved ones. In the case of this altar, a 20 year old young man died 3 years ago in a car accident while driving to the beach. His aunt was standing beside the altar. She told me about him and about the photo at the very bottom center of the altar… the two people holding hands with a stuffed animal…. which is the father and mother of the deceased. The stuffed animal they are holding between them contains the ashes of their son. They take the stuffed animal with them everywhere as a way to feel like he is still with them.
Vivos los Queremos! This woman was paying tribute to the 43 students in Mexico who disappeared in 2014. They were on a bus going to a protest of government policies, when they were arrested and then turned over to criminal organization and never heard from again.
“La Catrina”… a wealthy woman skeleton symbolizes deaths great equalizing power. Another popular symbol … both in decorations and in costumes. It is a way of laughing a death.
Putting all the pieces together… including candles which are lit to celebrate the spirits return.