A calendar offers so many festive days to celebrate! While most holidays carry a whiff of positive things like love, friendship, and appreciation, some take on a more serious tone. For example, Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos in Spanish, encourages you to commemorate and pay tribute to those who have already passed away.
Day of the Dead is traditionally celebrated during the first two days of November during which people venerate the memory of their ancestors. Notably that Día de los Muertos is a national holiday in Latin America, but it is gaining popularity throughout the world because it is commemorated with much style and festivity, which contrasts starkly with the supposed solemnity and sadness of an occasion like that.
Despite its name, Día de Los Muertos is not only about the dead, but also about the living. Festive ceremonies are designed to provide a bridge between the living and the deceased through an act of honoring those who departed this life.
Traditional rituals to mark Day of the Dead include gathering in cemeteries, arranging and beautifying altars (ofrendas), scattering symbolic flowers here and there, cooking calaveras (edible sweet skulls), organizing colorful and joyful parades on the streets, shooting fireworks, and decorating areas with images of La Calavera Catrina – a recognizable female skeleton wearing a fancy hat and a colorful dress. The image of La Calavera Catrina was created by artist José Guadalupe Posada. It is a major symbol of Day of the Dead, and you can see it in nearly all aspects of the holiday.
While participants use many symbolic elements to observe Day of the Dead, flowers have always played a key role in this tradition. People unleash all their creativity and generosity to decorate their environments for Day of the Dead, and fresh flowers are an integral part of these decorations.
The most popular flowers to mark Día de los Muertos are marigolds, alternatively known as cempazuchitl flowers. Living relatives bring bunches of marigolds at the grave of the deceased and also employ these blooms to embellish altars.
If you would like to domesticate this Latin custom or simply want to know a little more about Day of the Dead flowers, this article explores the symbolism and beauty of this unusual celebration.
Day of the Dead History
What makes Día de Los Muertos a joyful and lively celebration is its afterlife concept. This tradition is rooted in the indigenous Mexican belief that life on earth is short and basically a preparation for living in the other world, so it is critically important to maintain lasting relationships with the dead. It is deemed that during his time, the border between the two realms becomes thinner than during the rest of the year. Those who observe Día de Los Muertos believe that departed spirits can enter the physical world and join the celebration.
Day of the Dead is basically a fusion between ancient Mexican beliefs dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, the skull-headed Aztec deity of death, and modern Catholic practices. Aztec people had their month-long festival devoted to forefathers that was celebrated around the modern month of August. During this period, Aztecs honored the souls of departed relatives and paid tribute to the goddess of death.
Goddess Mictecacihuatl is also called the “lady of the dead.” She rules the underworld and watches over the bones of the deceased, which the pre-Columbian Aztec tribes believed were a source of life in the post-existence. The signature of Mictecacihuatl is a grinning skull face that is one of the main attributes of Día de Muertos.
As centuries went by, the tradition was heavily influenced by the Catholic religion. Día de los Muertos has been reduced from a month-long festival to a two-day occasion held in Mexico on November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day). All Saints’ Day is celebrated in honor of children who have died, and All Souls’ Day is the remembrance of adults who have forever departed.
Flowers of Day of the Dead
The indispensable requisite of Día de los Muertos is flowers, along with the depictions of Mictecacihuatl and skull masks. Fresh blooms are used to embellish altars and craft distinctive flower crowns. Flowers employed for the occurrence are generally available during the autumn, and they send forth a strong fragrance and carry a meaning of death, reflection, or remembrance.
Here is a list of the most popular flowers you want to consider to perfectly celebrate Day of the Dead.
Cempazuchitl flowers, or marigolds, are famed for their strong saturated scent. Believers say that when marigolds are combined with a suitable candle, the souls of the dead return to this world for a short time to enjoy the joys of life once again.
Adorning altars and gravesites with marigolds is not the only way to use fresh flowers on Day of the Dead. Sometimes, the petals of marigolds are strategically placed to guide the souls, so they know how to find their way to home (in this case, marigolds act as a spiritual path or walkway). Since these blooms symbolize the fragility of life, it is no surprise that they are popular picks to pay respect to those who have gone to a better world.
The vibrant and cheerful nature of these little orange plants fits the positive and colorful atmosphere of Day of the Dead, which is probably why many people like to include marigolds in their floral arrangements.
Cockscombs (Terciopelo Rojo)
Although marigolds are most closely associated with Día de los Muertos, many other lovely flowers are often used to decorate altars or the resting places of the deceased. Comb-shaped cockscombs are a popular option to mark Day of the Dead as well. Coming in a bevy of vibrant shades including white, yellow, red, and violet, Terciopelo Rojo flowers make a great addition to this type of observance, and their long lifespan makes them suitable to decorate altars and graves. In Catholicism, red cockscombs traditionally signify Christ’s blood and resurrection from the dead.
Chrysanthemums (Crisantemo Blanco)
Chrysanthemums are in blossom during the fall, which makes them an ideal choice to commemorate Día de los Muertos. These flowers spoil you with the diversity of colorful species, but the most preferred variety for an occasion like that is white chrysanthemums. This color holds so much symbolism behind it, with the most known meanings being beauty, purity, peace, and spirituality. Mums can be implemented in every aspect of the celebration, including adorning altars, designing flower crowns, and garnishing the graves.
These tall, sword-shaped blooms are often laid on gravesites and tombstones during Día de los Muertos celebrations because gladioli are traditional symbols of remembrance and faithfulness in many world traditions. Gorgeous and showy, these blooms can be used on their own or as a part of a floral arrangement, often paired with other traditional flowers such as baby’s breath or mums for the ultimate Day of the Dead feel.
White Hoary Stocks (Alheli Blanco)
Though Hoary Stocks offer a rich palette of colors, Día de los Muertos participants prefer to use exactly white blooms as it is a symbol of simplicity, beauty, and innocence. Emitting a sweet delicate scent, hoary stocks are refined and graceful flowers where tall leafy stalks are accentuated with numerous clusters of small ruffled blooms. Because of their deep symbolism, white flowers are used to decorate altars that memorialize lost children or those who died young.
Baby’s Breath (Nube)
These subtle flowers also often appear in the Day of the Dead ceremonies as lovely accents in flower crowns, decorations for altars and gravesites, and just adding a touch of exquisiteness to floral arrangements to round things out. Baby’s Breath offers many delicate qualities, which is why the Day of the Dead members often include these plants to complement the vivid and dynamic decors of the celebration.
Like sweet skulls, altars, and La Calavera Catrina portraits, Day of the Dead flowers play a vital role in this celebration. Some flowers are believed to guide the departed spirits back to our world. Other plants carry a deep significance and can greatly complement the overall atmosphere of the holiday. Although native to Latin America, Día de los Muertos is spreading internationally as many people around the globe would love to celebrate the lives of their lost loved ones in a bright and joyful manner.