Understanding that Day of the Dead is a holiday that comes from a tradition originating in the ancient Oaxaca region of Mexico is a good starting point to adopting and embracing this custom, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it the way the Zapotecs do it to be “authentic”. The spirit of the holiday is in the embracing of the custom by personalizing the ritual to include your own traditions. A place that many choose to begin in their introduction to DIa de los Muertos is in the iconography. This is where the sugar skull art and painted faces comes from. It’s people trying to show appreciation and fellowship in something that is larger than themselves. Mortality binds us all, and it is therefore appropriate that this holiday should transcend to extend to us all as well.
Which brings us back to the original question: where to begin? I think the idea of the calacas is a great place to infuse your own identity into the celebration of this occasion. Begin first with the conceptualization of the skeletons transposed into everyday situations. Many meanings can come from this, but there really isn’t a “right” one. The calacas is an expression of ideals and ideas wrapped in satire and metaphor. First begin by imagining what would your calacas family be like?