Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, is a Mexican celebration that honors past family members and allows them to visit the world of the living to reunite with loved ones during this time. Once a year, families come together to create an ofrenda (altar) adorned with vibrant decorations, candles, food, tequila or Mezcal, their photo and personal items that identified them. An ofrenda not only helps welcome ancestors back to Earth but provides nourishment for their soul after the long journey.
Dating back to 3,000 years, this holiday is still celebrated today in Mexico, other Latin American countries and even the United States. With that said, there are tons of traditions that have been passed on throughout the years. One of these customs includes decorating the ofrenda with symbolic flowers.LagunaticPhoto//Getty Images
Although Day of the Dead flowers vary depending on region, tradition and what’s available, one of the more popular flowers is the yellow and orange marigold, also known as flor de cempasúchil. But it doesn’t stop there! From flowers like cockscomb to chrysanthemums, there are several flowers tied to Day of the Dead which all carry their own significance. That’s why we are breaking down everything you need to know about Day of the Dead flowers and their meanings for this beautiful tradition.
Often called “flowers of the dead,” cempasúchil, 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.
CockscombTyler Tomasek//Getty Images
The terciopelo rojo or cockscomb are combined in decorations and on altars with marigolds as a prime example of how Catholic and Aztec culture intermingle in modern Day of the Dead celebrations. According to the Mexican Folk Art Guide, the deep red flower symbolizes the blood of Christ, although their brightness keeps the altar looking vibrant and cheerful, rather than the somber and dreary mood many of us in the United States associate with death and remembrance. In addition, the flowers can last up to eight weeks, especially in the hot and humid climates where they typically grow.
White flowers also frequently appear in Day of the Dead celebrations, which is fitting because they’re said to symbolize peace, beauty and sympathy. The white chrysanthemum, in particular, is used in funerals and Day of the Dead altars, according an article by Cake Blog. They originate from Spain, where they appear prominently on All Souls Day and in funeral floral arrangements. Similarly, white baby’s breath may appear in Day of the Dead arrangements, often for its cloud-like clusters that lend an ethereal aura to a bouquet.
You may see these long-stalked blooms laid on gravesites and tombstones during Day of the Dead ceremonies, because they traditionally represent remembrance and faithfulness in many cultures. They may be used on their own or as part of a bouquet, often with baby’s breath or other traditional blooms to round things out. It’s also an impressive-looking flower, with its long stem and showy blossoms, making it a perfect focal point for a larger arrangement.
White Hoary Stockmagicflute002
You may see white hoary stock used for altars remembering lost children, in particular. The flower symbolizes beauty and simplicity, according to the Mexican Folk Art Guide, and the blooms have a delicate, sweet fragrance. While the flowers also come in lots of other colors, including purple, red and blue, symbolism comes into play here. White recalls innocence, which is why you’ll typically see white hoary stock on altars memorializing those who died too young.
Baby's Breathfotolinchen//Getty Images
Signifying purity, love and innocence, these delicate white flowers are often used as an accent in floral arrangements. In Día de Muertos, you can find these flowers being incorporated in crowns, gravesites and ofrendas.
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What flowers are associated with Day of the Dead?
Marigolds are used to decorate altars during Day of the Dead celebrations and homes and cemeteries in Mexico. Marigold flowers are also placed on graves or near them for good luck and for loved ones who have passed away.
What is the most famous flower on Day of the Dead?
The most popular Day of the Dead flowers used for celebrations are cempazuchitl flowers, also known as “marigolds.” Decorating for Day of the Dead is one of the most beautiful things about the holiday, and flowers are often a big part of these decorations.
What colors and flowers are used on the Day of the Dead?
The colors yellow and orange are both used in this holiday to represent marigolds, the sun, and light. Marigolds are the flowers of the dead and are thought to help the deaceased find their way back home due to their strong scent and bright colors. The color red is used to represent blood.
What is the meaning of cempasúchil flowers?
A look at why the marigold, or cempasúchil, is the traditional flower of the dead. While Dia de los Muertos is a holiday wrapped up in death, it's actually celebratory in nature. The marigold flower, with its cheerful hues and fragrance, is said to lead souls from their burial place to their family homes.