Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—begins today.
Similar ceremonies are celebrated throughout Latin America, but Dia de los Muertos is mostly associated with Mexico. It combines Aztec and the Catholic rituals of All Saints and All Souls days, brought to Latin America by Spanish conquistadors, and in turn appropriated from pagan European festivals like Celtic Samhain, which ends tonight.
Today and tomorrow, Dia de los Muertos will honor the dead with lively celebrations. Altars are built, cemeteries are decorated, there are parades and dancing and candy skulls. The dead must not be insulted by sadness, so life is honored with food, drinking, parties and all the things the dead enjoyed in life. On these days the dead are awakened and reunited to have fun with their communities.
In homes in ancient Greece, near the hearth, pots were placed in which corn seeds were mixed with other ingredients and turned into a kind of jelly. The pots represented the womb of the Underworld, the womb of the Earth, and the seeds were the dead who rest there, like the corn that resurrects in spring. The ghosts were called Demetreioi, those who belong to the goddess Demeter and who rest like corn in her womb. In a festival held around this time of year, the pots were uncovered and thus the Underworld was opened.
For three days, ghosts resided among the living. They freely roamed the house and a place was set for them with food at every meal.
When those three days had passed, the dead were driven out with olive twigs and holy water and informed that enough was enough. They were to stop disturbing the living and return to their own world. Then the lids were replaced on the pots for another year.