Friday, November 2, 2018

Day of the Dead - Día de los Muertos

Today is the final day to celebrate the Day of the Dead – a time to honor and celebrate loved ones who have died. The holiday is held November 1st and 2nd throughout Central and Southern Mexico. According to Mexican tradition, the gates of heaven open at midnight October 31st and all of the children who have died come back to visit their families. On November 2nd, adults who have departed are also able to return to earth for a short visit with loved ones… a true celebration of life and death.


Aztec and Mayan cultures have celebrated Day of the Dead for thousands of years. Mourning the dead was considered disrespectful so a party was thrown each year to remember and honor those who had died. Instead of two days, those celebrations lasted for an entire month and offerings were made to Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of the Dead.

A Family Alter
Alters are the centerpieces of the festivities. They are erected in homes and cemeteries and decorated with flowers. (Marigolds are the most popular because they are said to attract the dead.) Fruits and a candle for each deceased family member along with photos are included. An array of food is prepared, maybe a loved one’s favorite meal, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and water waiting to welcome visiting spirits back home. Special gifts like candies and toys are left for the children’s spirits while adults are offered cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. Families honor their loved ones to the best of their abilities so only the best food and drinks are provided.

Cleaning the Graves
November 2nd is a social day in the local village. It's the day families travel to the cemetery to clean and decorate their loved ones graves, visit with neighbors, and remember those who have passed with stories and humor. Sugar skulls, a regional candy made of sugar cane and decorated elaborately, are believed to be “absorbed” by the visiting souls. The local band provides music for the event.

La Calavera Catrina is a symbol of the day. This female skeleton was created by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada in 1910 and dressed in the styles of 1900 including a large brimmed black hat. Men dress in fancy suits, and everyone paints their faces to resemble colorful skulls. The costumes are also a reminder that we are all the same under the skin. Singing, dancing and parades are held as part of the celebration. Noisemakers are used to “wake up the dead” and keep them involved in the celebration. When the party is over, the dog Xoloitzcuintli is said to assist in guiding the souls back to heaven.

Sugar Skulls
Day of the Dead celebrations are held in Latin American countries, Spain and the United States. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed Day of the Dead as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. Sugar skulls are popular with children, and parades of costumed revelers are always anticipated. Although the holiday is fun and festive, it is meant to honor loved ones who have died, and to celebrate life, and death – something we all will eventually have in common with each other.

~ Joy

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