Death is commemorated and ritualized world-wide according to historical developments and cultural evolution. In Midwestern towns of the U. S., communities gather on Memorial Day to clean and visit the graves of their family members. In Latvia, each autumn the spirits are considered closest to the earth, family members carefully clean and rake the graves so the footsteps of the spirits can be seen when they visit. In Mexico, Día de los Muertos, is an annual family gathering meant to honor and celebrates the lives of their loved ones.
For Día de los Muertos, Mexicans traditionally return to their family homes from all over the world to welcome the dead with respect and devotion. The belief that the dead have divine permission to return to family homes for twenty-four hours each year is practiced throughout Mesoamerica in an atmosphere of love and remembrance.
Essential to Día de los Muertos rituals and practices is the pre-Columbian belief in the universal duality of life; birth and death, light and dark, joy and pain are critical and necessary partners in the cycle our existence. The elements of Día de los Muertos illustrate the cultural crossings between pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and Spanish European beliefs and traditions. Both together clearly reflect the Mexican “culture of synthesis,” a phrase coined by José Vasconcelos.
Contemporary Día de los Muertos evolves as with new challenges and needs of the communities such as emigration from small villages to cities throughout the Americas including the U.S. Above all, Día de los Muertos is a day set aside for families and communities to honor ancestors and loved ones, while celebrating the cycle of life.