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You’ve probably seen the colorful skulls and flowers that surface around Halloween every year, but did you know there’s much more to them than candy? They are a part of Día de los Muertos.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a multi-day holiday from November 1–2 that celebrates life and death. The holiday originated in Mexico, with roots in Aztec culture between 2,500-3,000 years ago. The Aztecs believed it was disrespectful to spend time crying and mourning over their ancestors, so they decided to have a celebration instead. Now this holiday is celebrated throughout the Americas with plenty of colorful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons).

Cultures who celebrate Día de los Muertos believe death is a natural phase in life’s long continuum. They view the dead as members of the community, still alive in memory and spirit. During the holiday, they temporarily return to Earth to spend time with their family and friends.

In order to ease the spirits’ journeys home, the living set up ofrendas (altars) to help guide them back. These include a photo of the loved one, a special candle lit for them, and their favorite food and drinks. They will also often put small trinkets or personal items for them.

Marigolds are a larger part of the Día de los Muertos traditions. They often cover the ofrendas as well as the graves in cemeteries. Their bright colors and strong fragrance are said to help lead the spirits back. Families will often leave trails of marigold petals from the grave sight to their home, which helps the spirits find their way back.

MarigoldsDía de los Muertos celebrations can be found throughout the world with regional influences. If you spend your fall semester with the AMIGOS Gap Program in Ecuador, you can celebrate Día de los Difuntos, or Day of the Deceased, which involves multiple days of celebrations and special treats such as colada morada and guaguas de pan.

If you’re ready to get out of your element and immerse yourself in new traditions, apply to an AMIGOS program today!

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