Though Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, is most often associated with Mexico the tradition has been absorbed by many world cultures and celebrated around the world.
In 2008 the tradition was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Day of the Dead is a multi-day holiday when friends and family gather together to honor members of their family and community who have died, It is a time of celebration when festivals and parades are offered as a way to help support those who have died on their journey in the afterlife.
With roots in ancient traditions Day of the Dead rituals, celebrating death of ancestors, has been around for at least 3,000 years. Originally it was celebrated during the summer months and for an entire month. Gradually, however Day of the Dead, became associated with its current days of celebration from October 31st to November 2nd, All Souls Day.
In ancient times the festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead” and known in modern times as La Calavera Catrina.
Traditions connected with Day of the Dead included erecting altars adorned with sugar skulls, representing Catrina (the Goddess of the Dead), marigolds (the traditional flower), and the deceased’s favorite foods and drink, as well as photos and momentos.
Then at the end of the Day of the Dead celebration these symbols of remembrance and spiritual support were taken to the loved one’s grave and left as gifts.
Day of the Dead Altar
You may wish to set-up your Day of the Dead altar several days ahead of Day of the Dead and enjoy a pre-celebration period before the actual Day of the Dead festivities.
Take time to prepare and make this year’s Day of the Dead an especially potent time of celebration and renewal.
What you will need:
You can start erecting your altar 1-7 days prior to the start of your Day of the Dead celebration and add items to it throughout the entire time of celebration. This allows the energies of communion with your departed loved ones to grow and expand.
Decorate your altar with traditional Day of the Dead items like sugar skulls, marigold flowers in yellow (symbolizing light) and orange (the sun). You can also include photographs and favorite reminders of your deceased loved ones.
Place one or more candles upon your altar. Candle light represents the light needed for your loved ones to find their way in the afterlife. Important Day of the Dead colors for your candles, include purple (overcoming pain and suffering), white (purity and renewal) pink (joyful reunion), red (symbol of life) and black (symbolizing the land of death).
Best Day of the Dead Essentials Oils
One of the best ways to commune with and honor your loved ones is an offering of essential oils. You can use an oil alone or in a blend in an aroma diffusor placed on your altar, or as an offering of perfume oil or mist. Whatever you feel will be most pleasing for your loved ones.
Here are several essential oils especially suited for creating the perfect ambiance for your Day of the Dead altar. If your loved one had a favorite scent this is also one of the best essential oils to use.
Cypress (Cupressus Sempervirens) - Steam distilled leaf. Mediterranean climate known for best distillations of Cypress oil.
Frequently found in cemeteries Cypress is considered the symbol of life after death and called “the tree of life and death.” The ancient Greeks dedicated the cypress tree to the god Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, and, according to legend, the cross that Jesus was crucified on was made of cypress.
Frankincense (Boswellia Frereana & Boswellia Carterii) - Steam distilled resin tears. Best location for growing and distilling are India and Somalia.
Traded for 5,000 years Frankincense is one of the holy oils used since ancient times when aromatic infusions were traded and considered as precious as gold. Spiritually and psycho-emotionally, Frankincense is best known for its enduring emotional and spiritual support. It lends support to help you be strong and recover after grief and loss.
Spikenard ( Nardostachys jatamansi) - Steam distilled root. The best location for growing and distilling is Nepal.
A valued oil since ancient times Spikenard has often been used in anointing rituals and religious ceremonies.
It is the plant aromatic that was used by Mary Magdalene as a foot balm to anoint her master Jesus’s feet in the New Testament of the Bible. Spikenard is excellent to use during times of great transition like marriage, death, the onset of puberty and menopause.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) - Steam distilled flowers. Best distillations are from Bulgaria and Canada.
Psycho-emotionally, blue yarrow has a stress-relieving and uplifting effect on the body and mind.
It can help ease intense mental and emotional states that threaten to consume and overwhelm.
Blue yarrow is a powerful ally when you need to make important changes in life, yarrow can help you to unite your inner forces and find your way.
Day of Dead Celebration Foods
Prepare a feast to honor and give thanks to your ancestors and loved ones for their love and support. Your feast can be as simple and small as enjoying a piece of fruit or as magnificent and grand as feels right for you.
Generally the foods for your feast are the foods eaten at this time of year by your culture of origin, as well as the favorite foods of your departed loved ones.
Place small amounts of food and drink on the altar as offerings. The spirit of your loved ones will partake of the essence of the foods. You can take some of the food as gifts to the graves of your loved ones at the end of your celebration, or in some way make an offering of them to your loved ones, as well as enjoy whatever remains for yourself.