Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lacey. Lacey Wonders, “What is Dia de Los Muertos?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lacey!

How do you honor your ancestors? Do you remember them on their birthdays? Maybe you visit their graves on special holidays. If you live in Mexico or have Mexican ancestry, you may honor your ancestors on Día de Los Muertos!

The tradition of Día de Los Muertos (English: Day of the Dead) goes back thousands of years. The ancient Aztecs held a month-long festival to celebrate their dead ancestors. It was connected to their goddess Mictecacihuatl, also called “Lady of the Dead.”

Spain invaded Mexico in the early 16th century. There, it clashed with the Aztec civilization. Eventually, the Spanish brought their religion, Catholicism, to the region.

Catholic traditions mixed with those of the Aztec people. Día de los Muertos became intertwined with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. That’s how the celebration went from being a month-long festival to two days. Now, Día de los Muertos is held each year on the first and second of November.

To honor their loved ones, people do many things. They go to burial sites and decorate the graves of the dead. Marigolds are often used because they are hardy and last a long time. Also, their bright yellow blooms lend cheer to the celebration. Candles are  lit near the gravesites. People aren’t sad, though. They are happy and welcome their loved ones back to ‘life’ so they can enjoy food and being with family again.

A family may put pictures of their loved ones who have died on a table full of memories. This is called an ofrenda. They may add favorite foods to the table and light candles. These help guide their ancestors home to visit. 

Other than the blooms used on graves, many other cheerful colors are used during Día de Los Muertos. Costumes and paper decor are mostly bright colors. Sometimes, people paint their faces to look like beautiful skulls. 

Skulls—used for rituals during the Aztec era—are a big part of the Day of the Dead. Whether they’re made from sugar or part of a joyful costume, these skulls are not scary. Their happy grins and colorful shapes are fun and make people smile.

Do you celebrate Día de Los Muertos? How do you remember your loved ones? 

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.W.9

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Not quite ready to call it a night? Visit Wonderopolis tomorrow for a time warp as we turn back the hands of time.