A Brief History of the Day of the Dead

El Día de los Muertos, known in English as the “Day of the Dead,”  is an awesome celebration, but not at all like Halloween, despite being so close in date. Of course, now there are all kinds of parties and celebrations, especially in Austin, but where did they originate in history? If you’ve ever been curious you’ve come to the right place! Before you head out and celebrate this year, enjoy a little bit of the origin story.

Let’s go way back. El Día de los Muertos became a tradition when the Conquistadors encountered the indigenous Aztec people. It’s a blend of an ancient Aztec ritual and Catholicism. It was based on the belief that when a person passes, they must undertake nine challenges in order to reach their final resting place. To honor their dead and aid them on their journey, the family would provide various offerings – food, drink, and so on. Over time, this morphed into the festival we know today!

This festival goes on for two days, with children returning to their families on November 1st and adults on November 2nd. The Day of the Dead has always been about honoring passed loved ones in history, but not in the way we might often think. There is no place for mourning their passing, only celebration of the wonderful lives they led! This is done in several ways and literally takes weeks of preparation – it’s amazing.

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One of the biggest factors in the Day of the Dead festival are the Ofrendas. These are elaborate altars that are set up in each family’s home. They’re decorated with tons of candles, marigold flowers, and of course – pictures of the deceased. Without their picture on the altar, it is said that the family member will not be able to return, so that is especially important if you’re considering making your own this year! 

Day of the Dead
Photo Credit: Genaro Servin on Unsplash


The Ofrendas aren’t just candles, flowers, and pictures. There are tons of offerings – like all of the deceased’s favorite things to eat and drink. It’s a massive feast and normally shared with family, friends, and neighbors. You’ll also find beautifully decorated sugar skulls, which are super fun to make (and not too challenging)! When the day finally arrives, the real festivities begin.

The two days have traditionally been celebrated in history with parades where people paint their faces similar to the sugar skulls. There’s dancing throughout the streets, feasting, drinking, and so much music. It’s a day all about family, friendship, and celebrating life! 

Featured Image Credit: Sam Brand on Unsplash

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