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Day of the Dead

In California, multiculturalism and diversity (1, 2) are everyday facts of life. Today and tomorrow, many of the people here celebrate the Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican and Mexican-American celebration of deceased ancestors which occurs on November 1 and November 2, which coincide with the similar Roman Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Skulls made of sugar (calaveras de azúcar) are given and eaten (yum!) for the holiday. People also write “calaveras,” which are little poems that mock epitaphs of friends. Newspapers dedicate “Calaveras” to public figures, along with cartoons of skeletons.

In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. Generally, November 1 is called “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) (also “Día de los Angelitos” [Day of the Little Angels]) and November 2 is called “Día de los Muertos” or “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Dead). The souls of the children are believed to return first, on November 1, and the spirits of adults, on November 2.

Although the Day of the Dead occurs at the same time as Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day, the mood of the holiday is much lighter. The holiday celebrates and honors the lives of the deceased.

Historically, the origins of the Day of the Dead can be traced to the indigenous peoples of Latin America, such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Purepecha, Nahua, and Totonac (also Olmec, Zapotec, and Mixtec). Thes Mesoamerican civilizations performed rituals to celebrate the lives of dead ancestors for over 3000 years! Skulls were commonly kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that would become El Día de los Muertos occurred on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, near the start of August, and was celebrated for the entire month! The goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the “Lady of the Dead,” was the Queen of Mictlan (who, along with her husband Mictlantechuhtli, ruled the lowest [ninth] level of the underworld in Aztec mythology) and presided over the festival. She is said to preside over the modern festival as well. Mictecacihuatl is believed to have been born and then sacrificed as an infant. Her cult may persist in the common Mexican worship of Santa Muerte. The “Lady of the Dead” corresponds to the modern Catrina.

When the Spanish Conquistadors came to Central America in the 15th century, they attempted to convert the locals to Catholicism and moved the popular festival to the beginning of November to coincide with the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day, the two days after Halloween, which was, in turn, based upon the earlier pagan ritual of Samhain, the Celtic festival of the dead.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

You can view higher-resolution photos (*generally* 7-30 megabytes, compressed) at the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Pro Gallery on Shutterfly™, where you can also order prints and gifts decorated with the photos of your choice from the gallery. Apparel and other gifts decorated with some of our most popular photos can be ordered from the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Store on CafePress®. Both Shutterfly™ and CafePress® ship to most international locations worldwide! If you don’t see what you want or would like to receive an email when new photos are up on the site, send us an email at

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