Intrigued by Day of the Dead? What You Need to Know and Where to Celebrate

The ancient Mexican tradition that brings us skulls, marigolds and sweet bread.

ByABC News
October 25, 2012, 2:21 PM

Oct. 26, 2012— -- I live for Dia de los Muertos. This festive celebration combines my two favorite holidays: Halloween and Christmas. I know what you're thinking:"Sugar skulls and the birth of Christ? How can these two events possibly have anything in common?"

Well, they do. For starters, Mexicans have been honoring Day of the Dead, (or All Souls Day and All Saints Day as it's also known by Catholics) for thousands of years. It's based on two principles in particular: One, it celebrates the lives of people who've passed away by luring them with gifts so they return to visit us; and two, it's about reminiscing with friends and family, among brightly-colored decorations such as luminous marigolds, strands of hanging papel picado, and ornate calacas (spirited skeletons).

Mainstream America, and the general public worldwide for that matter, have taken on this ancient Mexican tradition and repurposed it to include all the Day of the Dead staples (such as vigil processions to-and-from cemeteries), while also incorporating new customs such as hosting art exhibitions with a theme that corresponds to the holiday.

Because Day of the Dead, which takes place on November 2nd, follows Halloween, some people might conclude that Dia de los Muertos is an evil holiday in which Mexicans praise death. Couldn't be further from reality, as we rejoice the lives of those we love and who are no longer on Earth. We also celebrate with huge parties to give thanks to our own lives and those who are still around us. While I see Halloween as a time to dress up like characters in horror films, Day of the Dead for me is like going back in time in which I remember the past while also dressing up in traditional Mexican dresses and rebozos.

Ultimately, the heart of Dia de los Muertos — for me, anyway — involves cherishing more time with my parents as they recall memories of grandparents that I never met while we clean their tombstones and place flowers and pan dulce atop.

When I'm not partaking in these festivities in Mexico, I still bring the spirit of the holiday into my own home. I always create an altar and place personal keepsakes, candles, candy, and milagros, miracle tokens that reflect wishes and prayers). Full disclosure: I even have an altar at work year round!

Glorifying death might seem a tad morbid to those not familiar with the holiday, but Day of the Dead brings the advent of death to light, making the concept of "the end" less scary.

It's during this time that I can share my affinity for Mexican culture and tradition with other Day of the Dead devotees, as well as with newcomers. As you can see, our holiday traditions are all relative. Merry Day of the Dead!

Check out our nifty Day of the Dead national event guide:

Los Angeles, CA
OCT. 25-NOV 1- Dia de los Muertos at La Placita Olvera: One of the oldest streets in Los Angeles and a popular Mexican marketplace is hosting a slew of events including Azteca dancers, mariachi music, children's workshops, community altars, art exhibits and more.

OCT. 25-26 - What's scarier than kids dressing up as the Twilight cast? Mexican masked wrestlers. Lucha VaVOOM will get in the ring alongside sexy ladies and stand-up comedy. Just like a Quentin Tarantino film!

NOV. 2 - Eastside Luv, a beloved wine bar in the area, presents their 7th annual Dia De Los Dead hosted by the Culture Clash's Richard Montoya, Alexis De La Rocha of Beatmo & MorrisseyOke. The evening should be a stellar one which includes music performances by Ceci Bastida, among others, Johnny Vatos Boingo Dance Party featuring former members of Oingo Boingo, a DJ set by Gil Cerezo of Kinky and much more. Also, Day of the Dead face paint is highly suggested!

Boyle Heights, CA
OCT. 25-DEC. 1- 39th annual Self Help Graphics Dia de los Muertos Celebration: During this Community Altar Night participants are invited to contribute to altars on display by placing special tokens of remembrance, and the night also includes poetry readings and pan de muerto. At 6, Oct. 27. Self Help Graphics will also host a group art exhibition titled Memories That Never Die from Oct. 25-Dec.1. From 5 to 11 pm, Nov. 2 guests are invited to dress up in calaca attire and partake in the traditional ceremonial blessing and enjoy musical performances, face painting, children's workshop, food and craft vendors.

Hollywood, CA
OCT. 27 - At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where the famous dead call home, enjoy the 13th annual Dia de los Muertos that includes a costume contest, ceremonial altar set-up, while exploring the pre-Aztec roots, rituals of this holiday. Special musical guest will be Ozomatli.

San Diego, CA
NOV. 1-2 Old Town San Diego's Dia de los Muertos celebrates the rich history of the area with arts & crafts, altar-building, music, food, a candlelight procession, and more.