Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and acknowledged around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. In 2008 the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a public holiday. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer. It was moved to October 31, November 1 and November 2 to coincide with the Roman Catholic triduum festival of Allhallowtide: All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves.
Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The holiday has spread throughout the world, being absorbed within other deep traditions for honoring the dead. It happens to be a holiday that has become a national symbol and as such is taught (for educational purposes) in the nation’s schools, but there are families who are more inclined to celebrate a traditional “All Saints Day” associated with the Catholic Church.
Originally, the Day of the Dead as such was not celebrated in northern Mexico, where it was even unknown until the 20th century; before that the people and the church rejected it in northeastern Mexico because they perceived the day was a result of syncretizing pagan elements with Catholicism. They held the traditional ‘All Saints Day‘ in the same way as other Catholics in the world. This is due to the limited or nonexistent Mesoamerican influence in this region, and the relatively few indigenous inhabitants from the regions of Southern Mexico. In the early 21st century in northern Mexico, Día de Muertos is observed because the Mexican government made it a national holiday by its educational policies from the 1960s and has tried to use it as a unifying national tradition in the north of the country.
In Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain, festivals and parades are frequently held and people often gather at cemeteries and pray for their deceased loved ones at the end of the day. Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures.
In France and some other European countries, All Souls Day was observed by visits of families to the graves of loved ones, where they left chrysanthemums.
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