The Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos), is a Mexican holiday when families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration.
A blend of Mesoamerican ritual, European religion and Spanish culture, the holiday is celebrated each year from 31 October - 2 November.
While 31st of October is Halloween, when, according to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened at midnight and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours for “el Dia de los Inocentes,” on the 1st of November.
The spirits of adults can do the same on the 2nd of November "All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead''.
The roots of the Day of the Dead go back some 3,000 years, to the rituals honoring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The Aztecs and Nahuas of Central Mexico held a cyclical view of the universe, and saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life.
Upon dying, a person was believed to travel to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead. Only after getting through nine challenging levels, a journey of several years, could the person’s soul finally reach Mictlán, the final resting place. In Nahua rituals honoring the dead, traditionally held in August, family members provided food, water and tools to aid the deceased in this difficult journey.
In the photos below you can see the representation of this journey, staged in Mexico City main square, Zócalo in 2018.
This inspired the contemporary Day of the Dead practice in which people leave food or other offerings on their loved ones’ graves, or set them out on makeshift altars called ofrendas in their homes.
Ofrendas can be decorated with candles, bright marigolds called cempasuchil and red flowers alongside food like pan de muerto and fruit.
The Día de los Muertos ofrendas (Day of the Dead altars) are an important feature in the celebration and each element placed on it as a symbolic meaning. In order to show the spirits of loved ones they aren't forgotten, a photo must be placed on the altar together with favourite food, drinks and personal objects to make them feel welcomed. Each altar is very personal, but other elements that featured typically are the beautiful marigold flowers, candles and incense used to guide the spirits.
If you want to have a feeling of this celebration check out also this short video made by Charles and Ray Eames in 1957, with the help of Susan and Alexander Girard.
Both couples spent time in Mexico and had a deep respect and love for Mexican art and craft. Girard's extensive collection of Mexican folk art was included in the recent exhibition 'A Designer's Universe' at the Vitra Museum.
The short movie shows the importance and symbolism of the rituals from the crafted objects created for the occasion to the careful display of flowers and food.