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The Day of the Dead is a Celebration of Life!
Based on the Mexican holiday which brings communities together to remember
and celebrate loved ones who have passed.
El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration of one of the most traditional Mexican festivities. This Aztec ritual and commemoration started at least 3,000 years ago. It is a festive interaction that embraces the cycle of life. Mesoamerican natives, African-Americans and Spanish blend their traditions during the celebration.
What is the Day of the Dead?
More than 500 years ago, when Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing for at least 3,000 years, a ritual the Spaniards would try unsuccessfully to eradicate.
The Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious and perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan. In their attempts to convert the Aztecs to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried to eliminate the ritual. But like the old Aztec spirits, the ritual refused to die. To make the ritual more "Christian," the Spaniards moved its date to coincide with All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Previously, El Día de los Muertos fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, near the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as Lady of the Dead, who was believed to have died at birth. (Carlos Miller)
The Aztec Ceremony
La Madre Patria “Espana” landed in Mexico
El Día de Los Angelitos (Little Angels Day)
Celebrations begin at midnight on October 31st and last for two days. November 1st is usually dedicated to deceased children, while November 2nd remembers deceased adults. November 1st is also called "Día de Los Angelitos," because it is believed that children instantly become angels when they die.
El Altar (The Altar)
Festive altars are built in homes to honor the deceased. The altars are beautifully decorated tables containing photographs of beloved relatives, papel picado (decorative paper cuttings), candles, sugar skulls and marigolds. Plates of favorite foods, toys and sweets for little angels and departed loved-ones are the ofrendas (offerings) placed upon the altar.
La Flor Cempasúchil (The Marigold flower)
Markets are filled with cempasúchil flowers, the orange marigold wild flower that the Aztecs used to remember their dead. Its color represents the tones of earth, and it is used to guide souls and little angels to their homes and altars.
In Cuban Orisha traditions, Babalu Aye is the African Power of death, disease and healing. A syncretism with Saint Lazarus, Babalu is often invoked by those who are sick in mind and body or their loved-ones.
Iluminemos el Camino (Let Us Light the Path)
The ritual starts with a candlelight vigil that beckons departed spirits to return to earth for a brief visit. It is believed that the spirits visit their families on October 31st and leave on November 2nd.
Amaranta y la Muerte
Inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The spirit of Death pays a visit to Amaranta and commands that she weave her own funeral shroud. Once she is finished, Death will take her away.
Fiesta de las Buenas Nuevas (The Good News Party)
Before she dies, Amaranta’s friends prepare notes for their dead relatives for Amaranta to deliver.
"She was sailing at dusk carrying the mail of death. Those who did not want to write gave her verbal messages, which she wrote down in a notebook with the name and the date of death of the recipient. ‘Don’t worry’ she told the senders. ‘The first thing I’ll do when I get there is to ask for him and give him your message.’" (Gabriel García Márquez)
Remembering Loved Ones who have departed
Las “Catrinas” Tambien Bailan (Las “Catrinas” Can Dance Too)
"According to Mexican Folklore, ‘La Catrina’ —also known as death— can show herself in many different ways. Sometimes she is dressed in a rather elaborate, festive way. Sometimes she appears before us in ‘bare bones,’ to take us away when we least expect it. Generally, however, the relationship which the Mexican people have with La Catrina, is defined by a unique set of circumstances, intimately tied with the history and culture of Mexico. Death in Mexico is thought of as a welcome guest on certain very important occasions, such as the Day of the Dead, or ‘día de los fieles difuntos.’ As Mexicans, we believe that death, and specifically the memory of our ‘fieles difuntos,’ which literally means ‘our faithful deceased,’ gives us a strong sense of identity and rootedness in our culture. This conspicuous —and perennial— guest is paradoxically also associated with the joy of life in the face of the imminence and inevitability of death. We only live once and La Catrina, with her mischievous smile, pleads with us to seize the moment and through music —and perhaps a little dance—, find life’s meaning."
El Día de los Muertos is a Celebration of Life
"Death" is not mentioned in many cultures because it is said that it "burns the lips." Mexican culture, however, plays with death and embraces it with celebration and love as a part of life. (Octavio Paz)