Nov. 2: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

VIDEO: President Reagan Approves MLK Day

A woman fills a jug with water for the flowers she is using to decorate the graves of relatives on the eve of Day of the Dead celebrations in Salcaja, Guatemala, Oct. 31, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo)

Day of the Dead: Nov. 2 is the final day of Dia de los Muertos festivities, the Day of the Dead. Rituals are cheerful, rather than somber, celebrating the everlasting life of the soul.

Families prepare altars for lost loved ones in their homes or in cemeteries, in the belief that their souls will return to visit during this time. Altars made for the deceased represent the elements of nature: earth, wind, water and fire. Vibrant flowers and food items represent the earth. Light-weight, moving objects such as tissue paper can represent wind, candles are lit for fire and water is typically placed in a small basin. Crosses and religious pictures are also commonly placed at altars.

Food is the nourishment of the soul and integral to Day of the Dead festivals. Sweet, glazed bread is popular at meals as well as altar offerings. Sugar skulls are a popular treat during the Day of the Dead celebrations.  The molded sugar skulls are decorated brightly with icing or sequins, and some have names written across their foreheads to represent lost loved ones. Other popular dishes include corn, pumpkin and chocolate.

Local Day of the Dead traditions vary in different countries, but many include costumes, dancing and parades. In Guatemala, thousands of kites are flown to honor the dead. In Haiti, rituals blend with Voodoo culture: Loud drumming in cemeteries is meant to awaken the spirits of the dead. In Brazil, families bring flowers and candles to the graves of loved ones, but there are no big celebrations inside the cemeteries.

Dia de los Muertos coincides with the Christian holiday All Souls’ Day.

Also on This Day:

1889 Statehood for North and South Dakota

North and South Dakota are admitted to the United States of America as the 39th and 40th states.    Prior to statehood, North and South Dakota were part of the Dakota Territories established in 1861, an area that also included Montana and Wyoming.

1983 President Reagan Approves MLK Day


The president signed a bill making he Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday.

2000 Presidential Candidate George W. Bush Explains DUI


Days before the presidential election, details of Bush’s arrest from 24 years prior emerged.  In 1976, George W. Bush was fined for driving under the influence of alcohol in Maine.

2009 Hamid Karzai Wins Afghanistan Election


Karzai is declared the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election after runoff vote cancellation.


Famous Birthdays

1755 Marie Antoinette

1913 Burt Lancaster

1938 Pat Buchanan

1966 David Schwimmer

1974 Nelly

1975 Chris Walla

1981 Roddy White


Jump back to Nov. 1: Day in History.

View more videos from This Month in History: November.


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