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‘Dia de Muertos’ is a holiday that originated in Mexico 3000 years ago when the Aztecs held annual ceremonies to honour deceased loved ones and celebrate the return of their spirits. The Spanish conquering of the Empire in the 1500s brought the Catholic element to the holiday in the form of their own celebrations – All Souls and All Saints Day. The result is a holiday with a blend of pre-Hispanic indigenous and Spanish Catholic influence that is celebrated not just in Mexico but in Hispanic countries and populations across the world.
Love and remembrance
Contrary to how it might sound, this day is a joyous celebration to honour and celebrate loved ones through ritual and remembrance.In Valencia, the day follows a typical pattern that is echoed throughout Spain. Many people create a private altar – ‘altar de muerto’ – in their own home, as it is believed that the souls of the dead return to join their families for the festivities. By celebrating with family both alive and dead, this emphasises that death must be seen simply as the next step, as opposed to something to be feared. These home altars are brightly and lavishly decorated with candles, food, drinks and fluttering tissue paper to represent the four elements.
Festivals, street parties and parades start early and last into the night, with the notes of celebration marked by the depth of passion and feeling. Families will go to the cemetery to remember and pray for their loved ones and clean the grave. Offerings are brought to create a shrine, with items such as incense, fresh fruit, flowers and candles, as well as objects that the person was fond of when they were alive, such as clothing or photos.