Today is the "Day of the Dead" in Mexico. It is what many foreigners would associate with Halloween in the states and Canada. But it's an entirely different thing.
Mexicans have a lot of respect towards the dead. All of their deceased family members and friends are remembered constantly, but specifically on one special day. This holiday is currently divided into two days: November 1st and 2nd.
The first of November is dedicated to all of the children and younger people that have died. Everyone that was in their family reunites on this day at the cemetery that the child was buried in. They bring flowers, food, candles, clothes... anything that the child liked at one point in his life. Then they decorate his/her grave with everything they brought. Sometimes they will do altars like they do for the older people that died, but most of the time they will simply decorate the grave.
The second of November is dedicated for everyone else: The elderly, the adults, anyone who died above age (18). For these people, they build altars (as previously mentioned). The altars can be either 3 levels, or 7 levels.
The three level altars symbolize the Trinity: God, the Son and the Holy Ghost. On the first level (highest off the ground) they put things that at one point belonged to that person. Such as, clothes, many photos, letters, if the person enjoyed any sport they would put something from that sport (i.e.: soccer ball, baseball bat, ballet shoes, martial art belt, etc.), jewelry, and in many occasions, a bible.
On the second level, they put a picture of the Virgin Mary (keep in mind this is a catholic tradition) and a cross. They also put the persons favourite food, drink, desert, etc. On that same level (it is more difficult on the third level altar than the seventh.) you are to put a basin of water, soap, wash cloth and mirror. This is so that when the spirit of the person they are dedicating it to can look at itself and wash up before eating. Also the mirror is to ward off bad or evil spirits.
On the third level they put candy, alcohol (if the person drank), toys, special things that were loved from that person, stuffed animals, etc.
At the bottom of the third level you are supposed to put a cross made from ash (NOT human ash), or wood shavings. This is also to ward of evil spirits.
On the seven level altar you do basically the same thing, only you are to separate each of the three level items onto all seven: First level (highest off the ground): Picture. Second level: Idol of Virgin Mary, Picture or idol of Christ, candles. Third level: Clothes, letters, pictures of family and friends, and any miscellaneous item. Fourth level: Food. Fifth level: Basin of water, cloth, soap, mirror. Sixth level: Toys, Candy, Deserts, special day of the dead items, candles. Seventh level (floor): Cross made from ash or wood shavings. Also, for this size altar many times they will make a path leading to the altar. This path is made also from ash or wood shavings and is outlined by a special flower called "cempasúchitl", which are similar to orange marigolds.
The seven level altar symbolizes the seven "heavens". I do not know very much about the catholic beliefs on this, it is either the seven steps that you have to do to be able to get to heaven, or it is literally the seven layers to heaven. Catholics are very confusing... Although I do find this specific holiday/tradition one of their most interesting and incredible holidays. What they believe is really just... remarkable. Also, this tradition has been going on since the Mayan and Aztecs. Although they celebrated it probably a bit different, the whole of it is the same.
Wow, this is a pretty long post. If you read this far, you're awesome. Send me a message (lol).
Well, now you know a little more about Mexican traditions.
'Till next time!