The Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated in Mexico and elsewhere associated with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and to remember friends and family members who have died. It is commonly portrayed as a day of celebration rather than mourning.
Mexican academics are divided on whether the festivity has indigenous pre-hispanic roots or whether it is a 20th-century rebranded version of a Spanish tradition developed by the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas to encourage Mexican nationalism through an “Aztec” identity. The festivity has become a national symbol and as such is taught in the nation’s school system, typically asserting a native origin. In 2008, the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The holiday is sometimes called Día de los Muertos in Anglophone countries, a back-translation of its original Mexican name, Día de Muertos. Whereas in Spain and most of Latin America the public holiday and similar traditions are typically held on All Saints’ Day (Todos los Santos), the Mexican government under Cardenas switched the festivity to All Souls’ Day (Fieles Difuntos) in an effort to secularize the festivity and distinguish it from the Hispanic Catholic festival.
The Dia de Muertos was then promoted throughout the country as a continuity of ancient Aztec festivals celebrating death, a theory strongly encouraged by Mexican poet Octavio Paz. Traditions connected with the holiday include building home altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using calaveras, aztec marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves.