Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

In Mexico the Day of the Dead is a holiday that tends to be a subject of fascination for visitors from abroad. On November 2 family members gather at the cemetery for gravesite reunions more festive than somber. Some bring along picnic baskets, bottles of tequila for toasting the departed or even a mariachi band to lead a heartfelt sing-along, cleaning and perhaps painting the headstones, arranging flowers, especially flowers of the dead and lighting candles.From mid-October through the first week of November, markets and shops all over Mexico are replete with the special accouterments for the Dia de los Muertos.

These include all manner of skeletons and other macabre toys; intricate tissue paper cut-outs called papel picado; elaborate wreaths and crosses decorated with paper or silk flowers; candles and votive lights; and fresh seasonal flowers, particularly . Local merchants set up provisional stands outside the cemetery gates to sell food and drinks.

Renowned writer Octavio Paz observes that, undaunted by death, the Mexican has no qualms about getting up close and personal with death, noting that he "...chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite plaything and his most lasting love." Her face is unforgettable and she goes by many names: La Calaca, la Huesuda --Bony,. A fixture in Mexican society, she's not some trendy fashion model, but La Muerte--Death. Another occasion that brings a multitude of visitors and surprising festivity to the local cemetery is May 10, Mother's Day.

For Día de Los Muertos the skeleton represents the dead playfully mimicking the living and is not a macabre symbol at all. Preparation begins weeks in advance when statues, candies, breads and other items to please the departed are sold in markets. A sweet bread, pan de muerto, with decorations representing bones of the deceased is very popular as are sugar skulls. These offerings may later be given away or consumed by the living after their essence has been enjoyed by the dead.

Conserving some aspects of these annual rituals, but linking them instead to the observance of All Saints Day, November 1, and All Souls Day, November 2, was a factor that helped early Spanish missionaries successfully bring about the conversion of Mexico's indigenous people to the Christian religion. It is precisely this synthesis of old and new worlds customs that makes Dia de los Muertos so intriguing.

After all, the customs for the Days of the Dead: November 1 - Dia de los Angelitos (Children's Day); November 2 - Dia de los Difuntos (All Souls Day), in Mexico are a composite of rituals and symbols from Inca, Aztec, Maya, and even Toltec, as well as a few Chrstian ones thrown in for good measure. Undoubtedly the practices of the Aztec dead feast day (Miccailhuitl) influences today's rites.

They believed that the souls of the dead return each year to visit with their living relatives - to eat, drink and be merry. Just like they did when they were living. Death's morbid side is buried under music and remembrances, while skeletons laugh and dance and sing as Mexico celebrates life in its embrace of death.

Not surprisingly, as Mexican society has modernized, long-held customs have begun to fall by the wayside, particularly among urbanites. But the rapid encroachment of U.S. culture, intensified since the enactment of North American Free Trade Agreement, seems to have spurred many citizens to actively pursue the preservation of Mexican traditions.

While each October the country's supermarket shelves are now crammed with plastic pumpkins, witches' hats and rubber masks, government and private institutions have recently increased promotion of commemorative altars displayed in museums, educational centers and other public venues.

Source link: Mexico's Days of the Dead

San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico