El Dia de las Muertos (the Day of the Dead), a national event honoring the lives of lost relatives, friends and public figures, is observed throughout Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2.
Many people believe that Halloween and Dia de los Muertos are versions of the same holiday. Not exactly.
According to Journey Mexico, a full-service luxury travel company that specializes in custom itineraries to established destinations as well as less-visited sites, the spirits of Halloween are harmful, magical and mysterious, so children wear costumes to scare them away.
The Day of the Dead, on the other hand, is a joyful holiday that handles death from a sentimental perspective. Its origins spring from a centuries-old Aztec festival honoring Mictecacihuatl, a goddess known as the Lady of the Dead.
Today, Mexican customs call for colorful altars in homes, for decorating the graves of the dead with the deceased’s favorite foods, tequila, flowers and sweets and for sharing humorous stories about their loved ones.
Short poems known as calaveritas (little skulls) are written and dedicated to the deceased.
Although cities and villages throughout Mexico observe many of these traditions on the Day of the Dead, San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato offers a front-row seat to the rituals, according to Journey Mexico.
Families go to cemeteries to scrub tombstones, clear weeds and lay out flowers and candles. A candlelight vigil lights up the cemetery as crowds gather to honor the dead, listen to mariachi bands, share bottles of tequila and picnic with friends and family.
A special market near the Plaza Civica has vendors selling decorations, sugar skulls, miniature coffins, skeleton puppets and skeleton masks and figures, known as calacas. The annual Calaca Festival takes place during this time.
Calacas are an important part of Mexican folk art intended to mock death and overcome the pain of loss.
Skeletons are humorously depicted as noble ladies, merrymakers, dancers and brides, according to Journey Mexico.
For details on this Mexican celebration as well as other events and destinations, visit www.journeymexico.com.