At Cypress Lawn, our dedicated staff members serve San Francisco families hailing from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, including Hispanic families. Funeral practices vary across the world, but families from Mexico take a unique approach to death and the afterlife. Each year from October 31 through November 2, people of Mexican heritage located in Mexico, the U.S., Guatemala, Brazil, and beyond gather to celebrate Día de los Muertos, a holiday with roots going back to the Aztecs. This special celebration has a fascinating and complex history that blends Mesoamerican customs, Spanish culture, and European religious practices.
Ancient roots and goddess worship
The origins of Día de los Muertos, which translates to “Day of the Dead,” go back 3,000 years to Aztec ceremonies honoring the dead. The Aztecs regarded life and death as part of a cycle, each one important and meaningful in its own right. The Aztecs performed a variety of rituals dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, goddess of the underworld. Mictecacihuatl was believed to preside over the bones of the dead. The modern version of Día de los Muertos celebrated around the world has roots in this ancient goddess worship.
All Saints’ Day
Traditionally, ancient European celebrations of the dead took place during the fall, when days grow darker, and leaves fall from trees. These festive gatherings often involved a bonfire, dancing, and feasting. Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church combined these pagan celebrations into a two-day observance in November now known as All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day. Modern Mexicans have combined All Saints’ Day with ancient Aztec rituals to craft a truly unique celebration.
Modern celebrations of Día de los Muertos feature parades, music, costumes, altars, cemetery visits, flowers, and more. It’s a time when the space between the living and the dead dissolves so that the loved ones who have died can return and visit the living. Altars are erected in cemeteries and homes featuring favorite foods and photographs of loved ones who have died. Día de los Muertos is a beautiful way to honor our ancestors who have come before us.