At first glance, it may very well sound like a variation of Halloween. After all, the celebration traditionally starts at midnight on the night of All Hallows' Eve.
However, the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an altogether different affair and involves more than just dressing up in costumes or trick-or-treating.
A festival of remembrance celebrated in Mexico between 31st October and 2nd November, this unique version of the Roman Catholic feasts of All Saints' and All Souls' Days is an occasion to remember the deceased.
Underpinning the festival is the belief that it would be insulting to the dead to commemorate them with mourning and grief. Instead their lives are celebrated with food, drink, parties and activities they enjoyed in life. On the Day of the Dead, the dearly departed are part of the community once again, called from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.
Although part of the festival coincides and has similarities with our Halloween, it does not see death as something terrifying and to be feared but as part of a natural continuum with life. The "calaca" (skeletons) and "calavera" (skulls) that appear everywhere during the Day of the Dead are almost always portrayed as enjoying life, dressed in fancy clothes and partaking in entertaining situations.
Its origins date back to an ancient Aztec festival dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Underworld or Lady of the Dead, a festival that lasted for a full month. In modern Mexico, however, November 1st is "Día de los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents) or "Día de los Angelitos" (Day of the Little Angels), on which dead children are commemorated, and November 2nd, "Día de los Muertos", remembers deceased adults.
Friends and family of the deceased will go to cemeteries to be at the resting places of their loved ones and build private altars "ofrendas" in which they put their favourite foods and drinks as well as photos and other things which belonged to them during their lives.
Prayers are said for the dead and anecdotes and stories are told about them, the intention being that the souls will return to hear the prayers and what the living are saying about them.
The graves are cleaned and decorated during the festival and the orange Mexican flowers, marigolds, are placed on the altars. It is believed the "flor de muerto" (flower of the dead), attract the souls of the departed to the offerings placed on the graves which often include toys for dead children and sweets, food and drinks such as tequila, mescal and pulque for adults.
A beautiful celebration of life, you do not need to be Mexican or Catholic to honour your dearly departed