Dia de los Muertos has burgeoned in popularity in the U.S. in the past decade and seems to be a very misunderstood holiday. A lot of Americans think it’s a kind of Latino Halloween and treat it as a rowdy extension of the 31st, but it actually has deep and significant Mexican roots. DDLM is a three-day celebration, honoring the lives of the dead and celebrating the living. The custom began over 3,000 years ago with the Aztecs, who believed that loved ones should be celebrated and enticed to return for visits rather than mourned. Although the Aztec version was at the beginning of summer, the colonization of Mexico saw the holiday moved to fall to coincide with All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day, Catholic holidays.

DDLM doesn’t actually traditionally include face painting, but instead the pretty calaveras (skulls) you’ve come to associate the holiday with were painted onto large candies called sugar skulls. Sometimes the skulls are decorated with beads, icing, feathers, rhinestones, and marigolds. The modern day sugar skull face painting you’re familiar with usually contains a flower or two of some sort, representative of the Mexican marigold, which are a huge part of the celebration, thought to entice the dead to participate in the festivities.

Altars are also a big part of the holiday; families will make altars to deceased family members and give them offerings of their favorite foods, drinks, and sweets. These sweets are also usually shared with the children of the family. The bright, colorfully decorated skulls represent the vitality of life. Butterflies, flowers, photos of the deceased and candles are usually found on the altars as well. The candles are a guide to help the ancestors come back to visit their families.

One thing to note is that DDLM is celebrated very differently in different regions of Mexico. It’s generally a more somber event in the rural areas, yet can be quite irreverent in the larger metropolises. No one way to celebrate the dead is right or wrong.

In closing, if you decide to celebrate in this way this year, take a moment to remember fondly and honor festively a passed on loved one.

If you need a face painter this Dia de los Muertos holiday season, contact Fancy Faces at gwen@fancyfacesdallas.com or call 469-236-1781. We’d be happy to make your celebration sparkle in Dallas, Texas, or San Francisco, California. Serving all neighborhoods in Dallas (Lakewood, Park Cities, Bishop Arts and more) and SF (Bernal Heights, Castro, SOMA, Mid-Market, NOPA, Inner Richmond, and more).