Each autumn Monarch Butterflies, which have been spending their summer in the Northern United States and Canada, return to Mexico for the winter protection of the oyamel fir trees. The locals people welcome back the returning butterflies in which they believe take on the spirits of their dearly departed, the spirits which are to be honored during Los Dias de los Muertos
Los Dias de los Muertos, the Days of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican celebration honoring the dead. Celebrated each year at the same time as our Halloween and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd). Los Dias de los Muertos is not a time for sadness, but a time of remembering their loved and rejoicing their lives.
People dress up in costumes as ghouls, ghosts, mummies and skeletons and parade through town carrying open coffins. The "corpse" smiles as it is carried through the streets. Vendors toss oranges inside as they march past their shops. Lucky "corpses" can also catch flowers, fruits, and candies.
In many homes they also make ofrenda's or "altars" with flowers, bread, fruit and candy. Photographs or pictures of the dearly departed are also added. Late in afternoon candles that burn all night are lit - it is time to remember the departed parents, grandparents, children and pets.
The following day everyone goes to the cemetery. They bring their tools, hoes, picks and shovels as well as flowers, candles, guitars, blankets, and picnic baskets. The graves of the loved ones are cleaned, weeded, flowers replanted and the dirt raked smooth. The Crypts are scrubbed. Colorful flowers, bread, fruit and candles are placed lovingly on the graves. Music is played, food is eaten, everyone celebrates the lives of the departed throughout the night.
Skeletons and skulls are found everywhere. Chocolate and candy skulls, marzipan coffins, and white chocolate skeletons and special loaves of bread are baked, called pan de muertos, and decorated with "bones.
Handmade skeleton figurines, called calacas, are very popular and are usually shown as active and having a joyful afterlife. Figures of musicians, generals on horseback, even skeletal brides and grooms, in their white bridal gowns and tuxedos are marching down the aisles.
The celebration of Los Dias de los Muertos, much like the customs surrounding Halloween, came about from the customs of the Celtics, the Romans, and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day along with heavy influences of the Aztecs.
The Aztecs believed in an afterlife where the spirits of their dead would return as hummingbirds and butterflies.
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