The Story Behind The Day of the Dead

Eliza Gray History /
day of the dead background
NurPhoto / Contributor via Getty Images

Whether you've stumbled across a local celebration or happened to see the ceremony in a film or television show, the Day of the Dead processions have the ability to capture the attention of many. But what is the true story behind this colorful 3000-year-old century holiday?

day of the dead history
NurPhoto / Contributor via Getty Images

According to dayofthedead.holiday, the festivities, known in Spanish as Dia De Los Muertos, is "a two day holiday that reunites the living and the dead." Celebrating family members create offerings known as ofrendas, which are meant to honor those who have passed away. From fresh marigold flowers to photos of the dearly departed and delicious food, the offerings are seen as a heartfelt invitation to encourage the spirits to come to visit their living family members.

dias de los muertos story
NurPhoto / Contributor via Getty Images

While most cultures stay connected to the deceased through mourning, Day of the Dead aims to tie that in with joy and celebration. The two-day annual festivities kick off with Dia de los Angelitos (known in English as Day of the Little Angels). On November 1st of every year, it is believed that the souls of deceased children are able to reconnect with their families for a full day. Offerings are stacked with the departed angel's favorite food, toys, and photographs, all in hopes of the spirit coming to visit the loving family.

What's more, altars are normally topped with the names of the departed family members written on skulls, which tend to be painted in beautiful colors. As the day moves on to November 2nd, the holiday then shifts to Dia de los Difuntos, a time dedicated to deceased adults. Family and friends gather to laugh, sing, pray, and reminisce on the lives of the spirits, all while enjoying games and dancing, often accompanied by live music. And of course, many people celebrating opt for traditional outfits topped with face paint to resemble a skull.

While Spaniards only learned of the holiday in the 16th century, the truth is that this special celebration dates back as far as 3000 years ago! You can learn more about this unique celebration of life and death at dayofthedead.holiday.