I’ve had a lot of incredible travel experiences over the years (visiting the Korean DMZ, witnessing Semana Santa madness in Seville, Spain, driving more than 10,000 feet to the top of a volcano in Hawaii) and yet one of my favorite ones might be observing Day of the Dead celebrations in Cuernavaca, Mexico when I was working as a volunteer at an orphanage there. I had first learned about Dia de los Muertos way back when during my freshman year of high school Spanish. While I had always dreamt of traveling to Oaxaca, a Mexican city that is famous for its Day of the Dead celebrations, I never imagined that by the age of 22 I would get to see the festivities myself deep in the heart of Mexico. As a traveler, no moment compares to the one when you as the outsider becomes included in another culture’s celebrations. It’s simply an unforgettable feeling.
-The Day of the Dead celebrations can be traced back to the indigenous peoples such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Aztec, Mexican and Maya as rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors. These rituals have been observed for as long as 2500-3000 years. The Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl was known as the lady of the dead and celebrations were presided over by her. The celebrations take place in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day which occur on November 2 (Day of the Dead begins on November 1).
–Calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls) are used to adorn the altars (ofrendas) and can be eaten. I bought one myself when I lived there but kept it in the fridge as I found it too pretty to eat.
-Despite its ominous name, Day of the Dead in Mexico is actually a festive celebration and not a mournful period. Instead of equating death with sadness, it’s being marked in an upbeat and friendly manner.