On November 1 and 2, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead, or El Día de los Muertos.
Just the name alone conjures up thoughts of grief and sadness, but in fact, it is a joyous and special time of year when relatives who have passed are lovingly and happily remembered by those still living. This unique holiday is filled with colorful altars, sugar skulls and flowers. The brightness of these flowers and colors keep the altars looking vibrant and cheerful, rather than somber and sorrowful. It's a time to celebrate life, rather than death, and a way to encourage past family members to travel back to the land of the living - just for a day - to be reunited with loved ones.
Days before, families begin to prepare an ofrenda, or altar, for their past family members. Ofrendas are decorated with food, personal items, photos of the family member and of course, flowers. Flowers play a significant role in this vibrant and colorful celebration, serving as a bridge between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Different types of flowers are used in various ways, all carrying symbolic meaning.
Marigolds are one of the most iconic flowers of the Day of the Dead. Also known as cempasúchil, or flor de muerto, these bright orange and yellow flowers with their strong, pungent scent are believed to guide the spirits of the deceased back to the land of the living and to the oferendas.
They symbolize joy and the vibrancy of life.
Tissue paper marigolds (Cempasúchil de papel) are also often used in decorations. These paper flowers symbolize the fragility of life and serve as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of existence.
Real or paper marigolds appear on altars, crosses and garlands — and sometimes people even create a marigold path from their home to the altar to help guide the deceased.
Brightly colored cockscomb (terciopelo rojo ) is known for its vibrant red color and velvety appearance, resembling the crest of a rooster. In Mexico, these blooms symbolize mourning and the blood of Christ, displaying a unique fusion of indigenous Aztec (Mexican) beliefs and Catholicism (Spain). It is also believed to possess healing properties, symbolizing the spiritual and medicinal aspects of the holiday.
Chrysanthemums (commonly referred to as "mums") symbolize life and death. White chrysanthemums, in particular, are used to represent peace, beauty and sympathy.
Chrysanthemums are often used on the altars and in flower crowns, as well as at gravesites where they remind us of the souls' innocence as they return to their final resting place.
Symbolizing the purity and innocence of departed souls, the delicate white flowers of Baby's Breath (Gypsophila) are often used as a filler and add a light, airy contrast to the bold flowers in altars, flower crowns and gravesites.
Gladiolas are tall, elegant flowers that symbolize strength, remembrance and sincerity. They are often used to decorate the altars as a way to pay homage to the resilience and lasting memory of the deceased. Placing gladiolus on a grave site (or in a funeral arrangement) is a beautiful way to honor someone you loved through the symbol of remembrance.
The Day of the Dead reminds us that life, like flowers, has it's seasons - and death is just a natural part of living. It is a beautiful way to remember our loved ones and celebrate their lives. The flowers used are a visual representation of the heartfelt emotions and connections that endure even in death.
Feliz día de los Muertos!