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What is Dia De Los Muertos?

November 1st begins the Dia de los Muertos (also known as “Day of the Dead”) festivities with All Saints Day in which deceased children are honored and remembered. As a kid living in El Paso, I would always wonder what the sugar skulls meant.

History

November second, All Souls Day, is for the remembrance of the adult dead. Dia de los Muertos combines these days to celebrate the the deceased and enjoy their memories. Day of the Dead is not at all scary, spooky, or somber. The spirits of the deceased are thought to pay a visit to their families during Dia de los Muertos and the families prepare an altar for them.

The Altar
Before Dia de los Muertos, an area of the house is cleaned up and the furniture removed to make room for the altar. The altar consists at a minimum of a covered table and usually a few crates or boxes are added to it and covered to create open shelves and other raised display areas. The coverings used can vary from plain to vibrantly colored oil cloth. The altar is then set up with the appropriate ofrendas (offerings) for Dia de los Muertos.

Ofrendas (Offerings)
The offerings placed on the altar for Dia de los Muertos usually consist of a wash bowl, basin, razors, soap and other items the traveling spirit can use to clean-up after the journey. Pictures of the deceased are also placed on the altar as well as personal belongings for each person and any other offerings the deceased may enjoy such as a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of tequila. Candles are used to help light the way for the spirits as well as other decorative items such as papel picado (tissue paper cut-outs) wreaths, crosses and flowers. Certain Dia de los Muertos dishes are also placed on the altar to help feed and nourish the traveling souls. Some of these offerings also double as the four main elements of nature — earth, wind, water, and fire. These are represented by movable or light-weight items such as tissue paper cut-outs (wind,) a bowl of water, candles (fire) and food (crops, earth.)

Sugar Skulls

The most popular “Dia de los Muertos” ofrenda is Sugar Skulls.Sugar skulls are a traditional folk art from Central and Southern Mexico used to celebrate Day of the Dead. Mounds of colorful sugar skulls are sold by vendors in the village open air markets during the week preceding Day of the Dead. Increasing numbers of non-traditional colorful candies such as decorated chocolate skulls and other Halloween candies are now competing with the traditional sugar skulls, which are becoming harder and harder to find in Southern Mexico. The skulls are made of a sugar mixture that has been pressed into molds and then dried. The dried sugar skulls are decorated with icing and sometimes non-edible items such as colored foil, feathers or sequins.

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Pan De Muerto

This sugary, sweet bread is enjoyed by the families of the deceased during Dia de los Muertos, as well as placed on the altar. The Pan de Muerto is made into a loaf  and extra dough is fashioned into decorations resembling bones. The bread is baked, glazed and decorated with colored sugar.

Atole

A hot cup of masa gruel known as Atole is used to nourish and warm the spirits when they return and/or when they leave.

Remember the Dead!

Feliz Dia !

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