I’m writing more about the Day of the Dead celebrations held in Mexico and Latin America countries annually on November 1-2; two days of reverence I have come to appreciate and respect.
It is important to know Day of the Dead festivities are not a version of Halloween, but rather a time to honor life and death and welcome back the spirits of those who have died.
According to National Geographic, “Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful.”
Historically these cultures believed death was a natural phase of life, and the dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit who temporarily return to Earth during Dia de lost Muertos. The festivities occurred around the time of the fall maize harvest.
As mentioned in my last column, altars (ofrendas) are set up in homes, along city streets, in businesses and in cemeteries to help the spirits find their way back to visit, and fragrant orange marigolds (Flor de Muerto) provide a pathway for them to follow. The marigolds symbolize the beauty and fragility of life.
Festivities in different cities may include parades, special foods, pierced papers (papel picado) hung in homes and along streets, colorful candy skulls, skeletons, cleaning and decorating cemeteries, and the ever popular face painting.
For instance, here in San Miguel the popular four day Festival La Calaca promotes ancient traditions with altars, a parade, a Day of the Dead market filled with sugar skulls, papel picados, soft sweet bread sprinkled with sugar and topped with small bone-shaped bread decorations called Pan de Muertos and women, men and children dressed in fancy clothing with their faces painted as skeletons.
This year these celebrations will be either cancelled or reduced in size because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I will be surprised if we don’t see an abundance of the most emblematic character of the holiday: La Catrina. She is a classy skeletal lady bringing elegance and a sense of aristocracy to the festivities. Catrina comes from the word ‘catrin’ meaning a distinguished man who is well dressed and accompanied by his ‘catrina’. These characters serve as criticism over the differences and disparities between the classes and represent the idea we are all socially equal.
I encourage everyone to include a trip to Mexico for a Day of the Dead celebration in the future. Come and reflect on life and death, remember those who have died, get your face painted, eat mole and puzzle, drink some mezcal, make an altar, and sprinkle marigolds along your trail.