Day of the Dead is celebrated in central and southern Mexico during the chilly days of November 1 & 2. We believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.
The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico developed from ancient traditions among its pre-Columbian cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors had been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500–3,000 years. The festival that developed into the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead”, corresponding to the modern La Calavera Catrina.
By the late 20th century in most regions of Mexico, the practices had developed to honor dead children and infants on November 1, and to honor deceased adults on November 2. November 1 is generally referred to as Día de todos los santos (All saint´s day); November 2 is referred to as Día de Muertos or Día de los fieles difuntos (“Day of the Dead”).
Ofendas are an essential part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. The word ofrenda means offering in Spanish. They are also called altares or altars, but they are not for worshiping. Some people mistakenly think that Mexicans that set up altars for their defunct relatives are actually worshiping them. Nothing further from the truth. The vast majority of Mexicans are Christian Catholics, so they only worship God. Ofrendas are set up to remember and honor the memory of their ancestors. Before setting an altar, they thoroughly clean their house. We must remember they are going to have very important “visitors”. The ofrenda is set on a table, covered with a fine tablecloth, preferably white. Then the papel picado, cut tissue paper, is set over the cloth. It includes: candles, pictures of the person you are remembering, flowers (cempazúchil), salt, incense, skulls (made of sugar or chocolate), bread (pan de muerto), favorite food and drink of the dead person, etc. There is a legend which says that the soul of the dead person arrives, and eats/drinks what you prepared for him/her, that´s why at the next day the food/drink doesn´t have flavor anymore.
Me cooperas para mi calaverita?