A Mexican Celebration in honor of the Dead

Day of the dead

Its origin dates back to the Mesoamerican cultures that inhabited the Mexican territory before the arrival of the Spaniards, such as the Mexica, Mayan, Mixtec, Texcocana, Zapotec, Tlaxcala and Totonaca ethnic groups. Originally, according to the Mixtec calendar, it was celebrated during the ninth month of the solar year.

The survival of this tradition after the arrival of the colonizers and the evangelization process is explained in the syncretic fusion of the Mesoamerican tradition with the Catholic one. Hence, the calendar coincides with Christian holidays, such as All Saints’ Day, the first of November, and the Day of the All Souls, on the 2nd of the same month.The purpose of the ritual is to honor and celebrate the life of the ancestors, the beloved dead and the exemplary dead.

According to tradition, October 28 is dedicated to those who died by accident, while on October 30, children who died without receiving a baptism.  November 1rst is dedicated to those who died as children and the 2nd those who died in adulthood.

As such, the Day of the Dead is a day of recollection and prayer, but also of celebration. The memory and the presence of the dead relatives are celebrated, who that day return home to visit their relatives and to feed on the offerings that have been dedicated to them.

This tradition can also be found in other Central American countries, as well as in some communities in the United States where there is a large Mexican population.

The Offerings

The beloved dead are gifted with all kinds of offerings and an altar is set in their memory inside homes. In it you can find food (the traditional bread of the dead or “pan de los muertos”), drinks, clothes, valuable objects, photos, ornaments, skulls, flowers (marigold flower) and aromatic herbs.  This is all intended to receive and gift the dead as a token of affection and memory. According to beliefs, these gifts attract spirits to make the journey from Mictlán (underworld of Mexica mythology) to the house of their relatives to enjoy a night of celebrating.

The altar can have up to seven levels, two being the minimum. The first two levels represent heaven and earth, while the third level symbolizes the underworld, defined by the Catholic religion as purgatory. The remaining levels represent the steps necessary to get to heaven and rest in peace.

Elements of the Altar

Flowers bow The arch represents the gateway of the dead to the world of the living which is why it is so important and is placed on the last level of the altar.

Candles so that the deceased have enlightenment and can recognize the way to the world of the living.

Skulls and skeletons are images that remind us that death is part of life and the importance of its acceptance. These are usually given between friends or family and the name of the person who receives it is placed on the forehead.

The skulls placed on the altars are of various sizes and designs, and can be made from sugar, chocolate, jello or amaranth. It is a way of seeing death as something sweet and not strange or alien to life.

Pan de muerto. Is a sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun, often decorated with bone-shaped phalange pieces.

Incense. Formerly, copal was used, but today incense is used, which serves to purify the space and its pleasant smell should attract the deceased to the altar to receive their offerings. Incense is lit during the time of prayer in order to unite the heavenly with the earthly.

Pictures. With the invention of photography, people began posting photos of their deceased on altars to represent them.

This festivity is considered by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and is held by Mexicans as a symbol of their national identity.

We invite you to come to Mexico and live the experience of this magical celebration.

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