Red, yellow, pink, white, black, purple and orange cut into intricate shapes decorate many mexican homes and altars during what is known as the day of the dead or día de los muertos in spanish. this unique colorful day celebrates death and family members that have passed away embracing la muerte (death). so what are all these colorful decorations for and what do they mean? well lets look at some of our old history. going all the way back to 500 years ago, the aztecs would honor Mictecacihuatl (lady of the dead) with rituals using fire, incense, costumes of animal skins, images of their dead and offerings of ceramics, personal goods, flowers and foods, drink and flowers.
the Aztecs weren't the only ones honoring the dead. for 2,000 years the celts honored martyrs and saints on november 1st calling it all saints day which was also the new year. it was believed that october 31st the dead would have a connection with earth. this day was celebrated with dancing around bonfires and offerings to the dead. of course the catholic church was not happy with this pagan celebration so they came up with what's known as all souls' day that was to be celebrated on november 2. October 31 was "All Hallowed's Eve" or Hallow'e'en. spanish conquistadors came to mexico trying to keep this sad tradition of the dead.
the aztecs embraced some of the spanish traditions,but added their colorful and joyful twist to it. today el dia de los muertos is celebrated with vibrant papel picado ( tissue paper), skeletons (also known as the catrina), candles, pan de muerto ( bread of the dead), food and water and an altar. each color of the tissue paper represents something different:
Red symbolizes the blood of jesus for the catholic church, and for the indegenous it represents human and animal blood
Yellow and Orange: the marigold, the sun, light
White: purity and hope
Purple from the Catholic calendar to signify pain, suffering, grief, mourning
Black for the Prehispanic religions and land of the dead
The altar should have three or more levels, representing the three stages of death. In a more traditional altar there can be up to 7 levels. So you need candles, some of your loved one's favorite food, papel picado, flowers, a picture of who the altar will be for, some pan de muerto, and a skull head or a Catrina.
The first level: the saint of devotion
The second level:souls of purgatory
The third level: salt for the children in purgatory
The fourth level: pan de muerto
The fifth level: food that the deceased liked
The sixt level: picture of the deceased (for who the altar is for)
The seventh level: a cross of a rosary
If you made a fun and colorful altar for a loved one or have a Catrina, go ahead and submit pictures!