The Role Marigolds Play In Dia De Los Muertos

African marigolds decorate Dia de los Muertos altars. They are thought to guide the spirits back to feast via their vibrant color and scent.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and throughout the world on November 1 and 2. It’s a celebration of life, honoring friends and family who have died. Colorful altars are erected in homes and public spaces featuring favorite foods, drinks (most notably, tequila) and personal mementos of the deceased. Altar decorations include hand-cut paper and marigolds.

Why marigolds? It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit the living during the celebration. Marigolds guide the spirits to their altars using their vibrant colors and scent. Marigolds, or flowers in general, also represent the fragility of life.

Marigolds grow extremely well here in Southern California, as you can see by the enormous marigold sections in some of our plant nurseries. The marigold most commonly used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations is the Targetes erecta or African Marigold, otherwise known as cempasúchil or flower of the dead.

dia de los muertos altar
Via a long journey over the Atlantic hundreds of years ago (a testament to how hearty these flowers are), marigolds now grow wildly in many of Mexico’s states–up to 3-4 feet tall and wide. Aztecs not only used the sacred flower for decorative purposes, but for medicinal ones as well.  The flowers are edible and thought by the Aztecs to cure hiccups and heal those struck by lightening.

If you’d like to honor a loved one today, plant marigolds in the yard or put some in vases around the house. Baking pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a common altar offering, is another easy project the kids will enjoy. Get the recipe from Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico, see a photo of the version Four Seasons Mexico, D.F. makes and learn more about one of Mexico’s most important holidays.

Whatever you do, remember that despite the context, Dia de los Muertos is an upbeat celebration!

*Marigold photo credit: Flickr, jaja_1985
**Altar photo credit: Flickr, cfrausto


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