Día de los Muertos celebrates the lives of our departed loved ones, and the new life that comes from death. The tradition helps us to recognize that death is just the next step in life’s journey, and that no one really dies as long as they live on in our memories. The history of the day traces all the way back to the Aztecs. The Aztecs believed that the souls of their ancestors went to an underworld called Mictlān, where they were protected by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the ‘Lady of the Dead’, who used the bones of the dead to make new life. Once a year, she would arise to visit the living, bringing the souls of their ancestors with her. The Aztecs thought that it was offensive to just mourn the dead, so instead of that, they celebrated their lives. During Mictecacihuatl’s visit in August, they held a month-long celebration in honor of the goddess and their ancestors, with music, dances, and ofrendas. When the Catholic Spanish conquered the Aztecs, they combined indigenous spiritual beliefs with Catholic observances. So, instead of a month-long festival in August, we now celebrate on November 1 & 2, Catholic ‘All Saints Day’ and ‘All Souls’ Day’. Día de los Muertos continues to live on and be a celebration of life. On the holiday, we place pictures of our lost loved ones with their favorite things from their lives on an altar, celebrating and honoring the lives they led, and calling them back to us. Like the indigenous ancestors, we also make ofrendas, which are offerings to the spirits who are returning to us on the special two days. The ofrendas typically include the four elements, earth, wind, water, and fire, which are each represented by different objects to guide or help the spirits. Altars can be either elaborate or simple, but all of them are adorned with aztec marigolds, where it is said that the vibrant color and smell will help guide the spirits to our realm.
The person that I am honoring my piñata to is my cousin, who’s name is Austin. He died four years ago, from a bad drug addiction that catapulted into an overdose. My entire family was struck by the death blindsided, as we had no idea of his inner problems. To this day, every year, when we celebrate Christmas together, we always light a candle in memory of him.