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The Flowers of Día de Muertos

Orange and yellow marigolds often appear on altars and other decorations of Día de los Muertos. There are other flowers, too, and they all have their own unique significance. 

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Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, honors the legacy of those who have died. Celebrated primarily in Mexico and Latin American countries, the holiday takes place on November 1 and 2. The first day, also known as All Saints’ Day in the Catholic tradition, honors children and infants who have passed, and the second day, All Souls’ Day, honors adults. The festival’s origins are deeply rooted in Aztec beliefs and tied to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, or the “Lady of the Dead.” An important part of the celebration, according to Smithsonian Magazine, involves creating an elaborate altar, or ofrenda, decorated with photos of the dearly departed, painted skulls, bottles of tequila or Mezcal, candles and symbolic flowers.

Like everything else on the altar, the chosen flowers carry deep meaning. Which specific flowers people use depends on several factors, including their availability and price point, as well as what other costumes and traditions their region employs. Let’s break down the most common blooms and what they contribute to the celebration.


Marigolds

Often called “flowers of the dead,” cempasuchil, or flor de muerto, these bright orange and yellow flowers’ fragrance is said to attract souls to the altar. Their bright and cheery color also celebrate life instead of feeling bitter about death. Real or paper marigolds appear on altars, crosses and garlands — and sometimes people even create a marigold path from their home to the altar. Remezcla reports that the earliest written mention of cempasúchil dates back to the 16th century, in the Florentine Codex. The Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún described the Aztecs’ medicinal use of various flowers and plants, including the marigold’s use in a festival commemorating the dead.