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The history behind el Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead

Nov 1, 2022, 12:42 PM
West Valley Arts presents Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Mexican dance and musical  perform...
West Valley Arts presents Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Mexican dance and musical performances were included in the 2021 event. (Photo credit: Utah Cultural Celebration Center)
(Photo credit: Utah Cultural Celebration Center)

SALT LAKE CITY — El Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that spans two days, typically November 1 and 2. Although, it can start as early as October 31 or go as late as November 6, depending on the location.

And despite this common assertion, the Day of the Dead is not the “Mexican Halloween.” It holds a deep cultural importance.

What is el Día de los Muertos?

The holiday, which originated in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica almost 3,000 years ago, is a celebration of life and death. History.com says the holiday is a mix of  “Mesoamerican ritual, European religion, and Spanish culture.”

The Aztecs and Nahua people believed that after death, a person’s soul traveled to Chicunamictlán, or “the Land of the Dead.” It was here where their soul had to complete 9 levels in order to reach Mictlán, the Aztec underworld.

The journey is extremely challenging and takes years to complete.

To assist deceased family members in their journey to Mictlán, the Nahua people provided general aid to their souls in August. These practices inspired today’s Day of the Dead celebrations in early November. 

It is believed that on El Día de los Muertos, the “border between the spirit world and the real world dissolve” and souls return to the earth to coexist with their family members. Families leave food, water, and tools on their family member’s graves. Some build ofrendas, or altars, in their homes.

If you would like to celebrate the Day of the Dead, take a look at this article!

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The history behind el Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead