Every year, people of all ages (dressed as skeletons) gather to celebrate the lives of the dead.
The living in Mexico remember and honor their loved ones who have passed away during the Day of the Dead celebrations in late October and early November, but the mood is one of joy rather than melancholy.
People celebrate the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) in the hopes of reconnecting with ancestors who have passed on.
Andres Medina, a researcher at the Anthropological Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said that the festival has its origins in agriculturally-related beliefs from pre-Hispanic Mexico.
According to Medina, “the corn is buried when it is planted and lives underground for a period to later reappear as a plant.” A corn kernel is viewed as a seed, much like a human skeleton is.
Skeletons play an integral role in modern Day of the Dead festivities, representing the rebirth of the departed’s skeletons. The dead go away for a while, like seeds planted in soil, but they always come back every year, just like the harvest.
The use of altars is also central to the ritual. Home altars typically feature photographs of ancestors alongside paper decorations and lit candles.
“Today, the celebration has been influenced by American Halloween,” Medina said. When placed within the context of the original purpose of the festival—honoring the departed—these components take on a whole new significance. In order to rejoice over the gift of life.
The government of Mexico City began holding a popular annual parade in 2016 that winds down in the city’s main square and features altars crafted by artisans from all over Mexico.
Dead People’s Desserts
The first step is for families to create an altar with candles for the deceased to use as a beacon on their way back to their loved ones. Some of the deceased person’s favorite foods are left on the altar in case they get hungry.
The altar may also contain the deceased’s favorite book or musical instrument, as well as other items that held significance for them during their lifetimes.
The celebration moves to the cemetery afterward. Guests bring a feast to share while cleaning tombstones, singing songs, and remembering loved ones who have passed on. In some cases, parents will even take the time to tell their children about a grandparent who passed away before their child was born.
Additionally, don’t overlook the skeletons. Skeletons made of paper mâché, plastic, or clay, in both life-size and miniature sizes, are ubiquitous on the Day of the Dead. Why? The Day of the Dead is a celebration of Mexican culture that pays tribute to the country’s deceased ancestors while also serving as a somber reminder that death is an inevitable part of living.
Spending time with skeletons is a sobering reminder that we, too, will become bones…albeit not for a very long time.
The skeletons are posed in bizarre scenarios, such as those depicted here, where they are playing guitar, taking a bath, and making tortillas. So, it seems that humans aren’t the only ones who get to celebrate on Day of the Dead!
Why Do People Observe The Day Of The Dead?
The “Day” of the Dead celebration actually lasts for three days. Beginning on All Saints’ Eve (31 October), the event has been likened by some to Halloween due to the tradition of children knocking on doors for treats and money.
Friends and family members will construct elaborate altars at the graves of their deceased loved ones, replete with photographs, corn tamales, candles, marigolds, and other symbolic items, in accordance with the indigenous belief that the dead may make a brief visit to the world of the living on this night.
The day after the parade is known as Da de Los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) or Da de Los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) to commemorate the lives of deceased children. Toys are placed on the altars and cookies and other sweets are baked today as the spirits of deceased children return to their homes. Adults who have passed away are honored on All Souls’ Day, November 2.
Where To Go And What To See At The Day Of The Dead Celebration
If you happen to be in Mexico during this time, you can shop around at local markets for brightly colored items that will be used to adorn homes and graveside altars. The colorful marigolds and sugar skulls are crowd-pleasers.
It’s possible to come across fantastic costumed parade participants, marching bands, and stilt walkers depending on where you go. Cemeteries are great places to explore at night when they are bustling with people and lit up by the red glow of votive candles.
If you want to experience the Day of the Dead celebration, we suggest signing up for a tour group. Some of the more remote indigenous villages can be reached on these trips, and you may be invited to stay with a local family and share in their festivities.
From the famous Calavera Catrina (a skeleton dressed in a wide bonnet) to the ubiquitous ‘pierced paper’ bunting, there is a lot of symbolism in the parades, decorations, and feasts, and a local guide will be able to decode these for you.
Explore artisan studios in rural areas to learn more about indigenous Mexican culture through the creation of black pottery, carved wood, and unique Dia de Los Muertos artworks. Join your host family for lunch after taking a cooking class where you’ll learn to make traditional Day of the Dead quesadillas from Oaxaca.
The celebration of ancestors on the Day of the Dead has its roots in an ancient Aztec tradition and incorporates elements of All Souls’ Day, a holiday introduced to Mexico by the Spanish in the early 16th century. This celebration takes place primarily in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd, and is similar to a family reunion, except that the honored guests are deceased relatives.
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