Written By: Stephanie Pislis
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout central and South America on the 1st and 2nd of November. Not to be confused with a Mexican version of Halloween because of its close calendrical proximity to the North American version of the holiday, Día de Los Muertos is quite different. Rather than the spooky, mischievous and playful atmosphere that we habitually associate with Halloween, the Day of the dead is a celebration of the lives of those who have passed. It is a celebration that involves an endless supply of food, drinks, desserts, music, costumes and calaveras, or sugar skulls.
The dating of this tradition is said to go back as far as hundreds of years ago and has origins in ancient indigenous Aztec culture. It was originally held at the beginning of Summer and in celebration of the Aztec Goddess of death, Mictlanteculi, whose name literally translates to Lady of the Dead. The date of this festival was later changed due to Western Christian influence. It was adjusted to coincide with the Christian version of the holiday, All Saint’s Day held on November 1st.
Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st and November 2nd
Despite having origins in Aztec mythology, the modern version of the holiday has been almost entirely Catholicized to accommodate the extremely high percentage of practicing Catholics in Mexico, a whopping 85% of the population (and currently stands at 83% according to the 2010 Census) . The first day of the holiday that is celebrated is November 1st and is referred to as Día de los Inocentes, or day of the innocents. As the name implies, this first day in dedicated completely in honor of deceased children. Alters are made on gravestones the night before by the families of the deceased and often decorated with toys, food and memorabilia. It is believed that the spirits of the deceased come back to the earth to visit and celebrate amongst their loved ones.
The second day, November 2nd, is when most of the festivities take place. It is an official holiday in Mexico where everyone enjoys the day off. Families and friends spend all day and sometimes all night enjoying the festivities in the cemeteries. Some families even prepare sleeping arrangements and sleep in the cemeteries in order to avoid a second trek to and from their homes. Despite the overwhelming amount of death that surrounds the holiday, the days are rather pleasant, enjoyable and entertaining. Ofrendas, or offerings are made to the deceased spirits on homemade alters which are placed on the tombs of the dead. Many people also have picnics on the gravesite of their loved ones and believe that the benevolent spirits are physically joining them.
Dia de Los Muertos is Filled with Joy and Festivities
Calaveras or more commonly referred to as, sugar skulls, are colorful representations of human skulls that are either decorative or edible and made from either sugar or clay. The calaveras are a type of momento mori, in other words, a tangible representation and reminder that we will all inevitably cease to exist. These vibrant skulls play a major role throughout the holiday. Families decorate their homes as well as the gravesites with such skulls and people often paint their faces in an exact likeliness to the calaveras. What is interesting about these skulls is the fact that we get quite a striking juxtaposition of life and death. On the one hand we have a human skull, a straightforward and morbid representation of death. At the same time, the skull assumes the role of a blank canvas that is filled with lively colors and images. Colorful flowers and religious symbols make up the majority of these skulls and some even seem to display a subtle smile.
The beautiful amalgam of sadness and joy, life and death is something that makes this holiday so special. For the people who celebrate this ancient tradition, death is not something to be mourned, but rather a stage of life that is never to be forgotten and will forever live on through the day of the dead.
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