Traditionally celebrated on the 1st and 2nd, day of the dead (also known as Día de los Muertos) or dead celebrations is a Mexican holiday observed by various Mexican followers around the world. It is most popularly celebrated in Mexico, where it originated due to the majority of the population.
The day of the dead is also known as All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints‘ Day, and All Souls’ Day. It is a colorful and joyful celebration where families unite to pay their respects to their family members who have passed away. The color of the festival, undoubtedly, arises from the offerings and floral arrangements, which chiefly comprise the day of the dead flowers.
The day of the dead is also seen as a rather popular festival across Central America and Latin American countries. The festival is widely popular for its skull and floral theme, which presents two contrary themes together.
While skulls represent the dead and the departed, the delicate qualities of flowers signify celebration. Thus, in Mexican culture, the day of the dead is seen as a celebration of the life of the lost loved ones, rather than as mourning for the dead.
1. Day Of The Dead: Origins and History
The day of the dead or the dead celebration is a holiday to honor the ancestors of the family, for which the community as a whole comes together. This traditional day was brought to Mexico by an amalgamation of many cultures: Spanish invaders, Aztec culture, and Pre-Hispanic rituals.
Earlier, the holiday used to be a month-long celebration for the dead and departed; however, after the Spanish invasion, it was observed for two days, the 1st and 2nd of November, to be celebrated along with All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. During the month-long celebration that took place earlier, the Lady of the Dead, goddess Mictecacihuatl was also given altars and offerings, apart from dead ceremonies and dead altars.
2. The Festivities of The Day of The Dead
2.1. The Concept
The Day of the Dead is celebrated in the format of a family reunion, where the souls of the ancestors and the departed as treated as the guests of honor. While the celebration varies from region to region, many symbolic elements such as various day of the dead flowers, skull masks, flower crowns, and floral arrangements play a key role in the celebration. These elements altogether form the theme of Día de los Muertos.
2.2. The Altar and Floral Arrangement
To attract the souls of the departed, people decorate altars dedicated to their ancestors, a major part of which is decorated with the help of many petals of various flowers, mainly dead flowers. These traditional flowers or the day of the dead flowers often comprise popular flower types, such as marigold flower, Chrysanthemum morifolium (yellow or white), baby’s breath, red cockscomb, white hoary stock, and sword lily, which are scattered to form a bright path towards the altars, and also to decorate the dead altars. The usage of vibrant colors such as white, red, or yellow and the strong aroma of the flowers is seen as a guide for the souls to take the right path toward their altar.
The altars that are decorated with the day of the dead flowers and offerings serve the purpose of funeral arrangements arranged by living relatives, but in a much more joyous and happy manner. These altars consist of photos of dead ancestors and lost children, candles having sweet fragrances, gifts, food, and the famous day of the dead flowers. Families sit together, eat and sing as a part of dead celebrations, to live up to the traditional meaning of the holiday.
2.3. Skull Mask
The clay skull masks, which are worn in abundance on the day of the dead, represent death as a part of life, which has to be seen by everyone. So, the day of the dead celebrates the happy life of ancestors, who went on to take the spiritual path of death. It also reminds the living family members that life is a short journey that must be enjoyed at all costs. These are also found in the form of edible items, especially candies. This skilled theme is also often combined with the theme of the day of the dead flowers.
In various places, you can easily find children wandering throughout the town in their skull-themed outfits adorned with a day of dead flowers, knocking on doors asking for the traditional candy or money which is called Calaverita. The practice is very similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treating.
Since it is treated as a family reunion, both the alive and departed members enjoy food together; the only difference being the alive enjoy them at their dinner table, while the departed in spirit through their altars. Special food items that are consumed on the day of the dead flowers include Pan de muerto, Tamales, and Calaveras.
3. Day of the Dead Flowers: Significance
The day of the dead flowers plays an important role in the celebration. The abundant use of some popular flowers, all of which hold a special meaning is a special quality of this celebration.
3.1. Marigold (Cempazuchitl Flowers)
Also known as Flor de Muerto (flowers of the dead0 or dead flower, the significance of this flower lies in its bright color and strong fragrance. These elements of the flower are believed to attract souls to their altar and to celebrate the happy life the person led, instead of feeling sad about their death. Marigold is seen as the flower for the dead across many other cultures as well.
3.2. Red Cockscomb
Since the day of the dead is an amalgamation of various cultures, it is no surprise that the day of the dead flowers also signifies different parts of various cultures.
The red cockscomb or rooster’s comb, owing to its bright red color is believed to signify the blood of Christ in the Aztec culture. It is also used due to its bright color, which keeps the festival of Día de los Muertos lively and upbeat.
3.3. White Chrysanthemum
White Chrysanthemums are known to signify peace, beauty, and sympathy. Therefore, it’s no wonder that these are used majorly on the day of the dead, mainly in floral arrangements. These also have a sweet and delicate fragrance, which is believed to comfort the souls throughout their spiritual path.
3.4. Baby’s Breath
This flower, which blooms in the form of clusters of tiny white flowers, is used massively in funeral arrangements. These are seen as a symbol of everlasting love and innocence. It also makes it a popular choice for weddings.
These flowers are mainly used in making flower crowns and decorating altars remembering lost children, which fulfills the meaning of love and innocence. Baby’s breath is most popular in white variety throughout the family, which is used on the day of the dead.
3.5. White Hoary Stocks
White hoary stock is also a flower that is especially observed on the altars of lost children, as they signify beauty, simplicity, and innocence. They have a sweet fragrance and a calming appearance, known to soothe the souls of children.
They can be used in a variety of colors, namely red, blue and white in the dead celebrations. Since white color represents peace and innocence, these are used in altars, and the red and blue colors are used in decorations for the day of the dead.
4. Modern-Day Festivities
With time, the festivities performed on the day of the dead have also changed. With the change and modernization of people came the modernization of cultures as well. Though the core values of symbols for the festival remain the same, the way festive days are spent, especially in Latin America, has changed.
In Mexico itself, you can observe various large-scale arrangements to celebrate the day of the dead. You can easily find Día de Los Muertos is celebrated in drastically different atmospheres; from huge banquets to streets, you can easily find feet-tall decorations and altars to observe this celebration. Paper marigolds, hoary stock flower crowns, altars decorated with flowers, and Chrysanthemum blooms are not that hard to find if you’re exploring the town on the day of the dead.
If you have a flower fever and love to observe the different blooms of the day of the dead flowers; if you love to celebrate the joyous life of the departed and understand life as a short journey that is too short to not have fun, you will love the day of the dead celebrations. The colors, food, fragrant altars, and the sentiment of being happy for the good life of the departed will win your heart.
Day of the dead is a very special day that will not fail to win your heart if you are to observe festivities full of flowers, food, and skull-themed outfits. Above all, it represents death as an inevitable part of human life and teaches us to respectfully enjoy the joyous life of those who left us. The day of the dead flowers that are used in the festivities such as marigolds, white hoary stock, and others all hold very special meanings, symbolizing peace, love, and respect for the departed.
Do you have any special experiences related to Día de Los Muertos? Do you know about any other interesting facts or traditions about the day of the dead flowers? You can share your thoughts and stories in the comment section!