Despite its name and the fact that it is celebrated near the time of Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a celebration of life. The holiday, observed for around three thousand years, connects life and death and allows those who have lost loved ones to honor and remember them through music, dancing and feasting.
Dia de Los Muertos finds its roots in the ancient beliefs of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. These long-ago people who lived in what is now part of Mexico saw death as an aspect of life, and honored the journeys of those who passed on. Those who died, they believed, traveled to Chicunamictlán, or the Land of the Dead. Their ultimate journey to their final resting place of Mictlán consisted of nine levels they must pass through. To aid them on this path, their living families left food, drink and tools by their graves. This was the beginning of modern day ofrendas, or altars that are used by families today to celebrate the holiday.
Day of the Dead is a way to ease the grief of loss and celebrate the memory of a loved one who has journeyed on. The belief is that on this day the barrier between the living and the dead is removed and the dead may visit with their living families, feast with them and celebrate their lives with them. Favorite foods, bright flowers and music add to the festivities. Pictures of loved ones are added to the ofrendas along with candles, flowers and food. It is a time to lay grief aside and remember love and a life well-lived.