The Day of the Dead – Mexico

Dia de Muertos, better known as The Day of the Dead, is a holiday which is celebrated throughout Mexico. The tradition began in the Central and Southern regions, and lasts from October 31st – November 2nd, each year. Festivities are held to honour the dead, and have been traced back for 3000 years. During this era, it was considered disrespectful to mourn those that have passed away. The Day of the Dead has also been linked to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, which originally took place during the summer. The time of year was changed to coincide with All Hallow’s Eve, and other celebrations, which involve a merger of the living and the dead.

To signify the importance of the holiday, the vast majority of revellers have their faces painted to look like skulls, and both genders dress up in fancy garments. Many of them also wear, or carry, shells and other noisemakers. In addition to creating a jovial environment, these instruments are to awake and alert those that have died to the presence of their family members. Communities are decorated with items made from pierced paper, papel picado. The decorations are made by stacking layers of tissue paper together, and piercing them using a hammer and chisel. They are then draped around altars, and in the streets, as a representation of the wind and the fragility of life. Throughout the country, parties and parades are kept which include singing, dancing and making offerings to the ancestors.

It is believed that the dead make the journey back to the world of the living during this time, and everything is done in their honour. Families build altars, or ofrendas, in homes and cemeteries, meant to welcome the spirits back to this realm. The altars are loaded with food and water, to satiate the souls after their long journey. Family photos, a candle for each dead relative and marigolds are also used to decorate the altars. The marigold is the flower of the dead, and the petals are often scattered from the gravesite to the altars to guide the souls back to their resting place. To purify the air around the altar copal incense, which is made from tree resin, is burnt.

Deceased relatives need to be well fed to undertake the journey to our world and back again. Living family members make and place their favourite meals on the altars. Other foods are also made as offerings, such as pan de puerto – a sweet bread decorated with skulls and bones, which may be round to represent the circle of life, tiny teardrops made of dough to represent sorrow, sugar skulls, pulque – a sweet fermented beverage made from agave sap, and stole – a thin warm porridge consisting mainly of corn flour and hot chocolate.

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