Mexico Celebrations: The Day of the Dead
Did you know that Mexico has a holiday called the Day of the Dead, or el Día de los Muertos? It’s a particular time when families can reunite with the souls of their loved ones who have passed away. People celebrate this unique event from October 31 to November 2, a mix of Mesoamerican ritual, European religion, and Spanish culture.
While Halloween is on October 31, November 2 is All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead. According to tradition, the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31, allowing the spirits of children to return to their families for 24 hours. The spirits of adults can also join their families on November 2. Families offer food and drinks during the celebration and engage in fun activities with their departed loved ones.
It’s a beautiful, meaningful time filled with love, joy, and remembrance.
What are the origins of the Day of the Dead?
The Day of the Dead is a beautiful celebration observed for over 3,000 years in Mexico and among those of Mexican heritage worldwide. It is a time to honour the dead and to remember that death is a natural and integral part of life. The Aztecs and the Nahua people believed in a cyclical universe where death was ever-present.
When a person passed away, they embarked on a journey to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead, which involved overcoming nine challenging levels. Only after several years could the person’s soul finally reach Mictlán, the final resting place.
The modern-day practice of leaving food and other offerings on loved ones’ graves or makeshift altars called ofrendas in people’s homes is a beautiful way to keep the memory of our loved ones alive. It is a reminder of their journey and the help they received from their families along the way.
What is the difference between the Day of the Dead and Souls Day?
In the fall season, ancient Europeans celebrated the dead with pagan rituals, including dancing, feasting and lighting bonfires. These customs survived even after the rise of the Roman Catholic Church and were eventually incorporated into two Catholic holidays, All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
In medieval Spain, people would visit the graves of their loved ones on All Souls Day, bringing wine and spirit bread called "pan de ánimas". They would adorn the graves with flowers and light candles to help guide the souls of the deceased back to their earthly homes. Spanish conquistadors brought These traditions to the New World in the 16th century, along with a deeper understanding of death influenced by the devastation of the bubonic plague.
This history reminds us that our rituals and traditions can provide comfort and connection, even in times of great upheaval and uncertainty.
The Celebration of the Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead, also known as El Día de los Muertos, is a celebration that allows for a brief period where the departed souls awaken to feast, drink, dance, and play music with their loved ones.
During this time, the living family members treat the deceased as honoured guests in their festivities. They leave their favourite foods and offerings at gravesites or ofrendas built in their homes. The most recognizable symbols related to the Day of the Dead are calacas (skeletons) and Calaveras (skulls), incorporated into art to comment on revolutionary politics and celebrate Mexican culture.
During contemporary Day of the Dead festivities, people often wear skull masks and eat sugar candy moulded into the shape of skulls. The traditional sweet baked good of Day of the Dead celebrations, pan de muerto, reflects Spain's pan de ánimas of All Souls Day rituals. The holiday is also associated with spicy dark chocolate and the corn-based drink Atole. The Day of the Dead is a beautiful and unique celebration of life and death that honours those who have passed and brings people together to celebrate their memory.