By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: When is the Day of the Dead and where is it celebrated? We won’t be going to this country anytime soon but would be interested in planning for next year.

A: The Day of the Dead is a traditional festive holiday celebrated in Mexico. Ironically, it commemorates those who passed away but the Mexicans actually celebrate life during the Day of the Dead so it’s happiness and warm memories that surround this holiday.

The festival is ancient and was born in prehispanic Mexico when the Aztecs, Mayans, Nahua and other indigenous tribes shared the belief that the souls of the deceased return annually to visit living relatives and eat and drink with them.

These ancient cultures all celebrated the return of their dearly departed with festivals and fanfare. Today, the Day of the Dead is alive and well. From dancing Calacas skeletons to chocolate coffins, families gather to honor their ancestors through ofrendas (altars), typically decorated with cempasuchil marigolds, candles, and photographs of the departed as well as samples of their favourite foods and other beverages.

These altars range in size and are placed both in homes and at the gravesites. If you spot the calaveras skulls anywhere during this time, be aware that these gruesome skulls form an important part of today's Day of the Dead celebrations. Originally, the skulls and skeletons were represented in the art of prehispanic Mexico, particularly the Aztec civilization which ruled much of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. Throughout the years, the skulls became part of popular culture.

Another Day of the Dead must-have is pan de muertos “bread of the dead.” This bread is made with anise, sugar, butter, eggs, flour, yeast and orange peel, and has curious bone motifs made from dough strips. Another traditional dish is calabaza en tacha “candied pumpkin,” which is prepared with cinnamon and brown sugar.

Mark your calendar for the following dates: Oct. 31 is Young Souls Day; Nov. 1 is All Saints Day and Nov. 2 is All Souls Day. During this time throughout Mexico, you’ll find each state paying homage to their deceased loved ones in a slightly different but equally colorful way. You’re sure to witness incredible displays of tradition and culture.


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