This time I wanted to write about the great tradition here in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd, or “Dia de Muertos” (day of the dead).
Mexico has a very rich cultural life, we are very attached to the traditions that pass through generations.
I am going to go back in time a little to try to understand this amazing tradition of the Dia de Muertos or day of the dead
The day of the dead or Dia de Muertos will take us back to the time of the Aztecs (natives in Mexico) they worship death as part of the circle of life. It was used to be the whole month, it was near the month of August, they dedicated the festival to a particular god known as the Lady of the dead (Dama de la muerte), today we know it as the Catrina. When the Spaniards came to conquer their land, they were terrified for the pagan practices the Aztecs have been practicing, so on an intent to convert the natives to catholic, they moved this festival to the first days of November, that happen to be the festivities for the catholic church of “Dia de todos los Santos y Todas las Almas”. The Spaniards combined Halloween and with the Mexican festival creating the Dia de Muertos has we know it.
This day is celebrated on all Mexico, some USA territories where a lot of Mexicans reside and on a few places on Central America.
It mainly is a festivity where we honor the dead, but not in a bad way, the ambiance is more relaxed, and happy. People go to the cemetery to visit the family and friends they have lost over the years and they make an altar on the grave leaving them food, flowers, specially cempasuchil flower and things the deceased liked.
If you are far away on the day of the dead, from the grave of the deceased it is also customary put an altar with food, beverage, toys (if it is the grave of a child), flowers, tequila, mezcal, and pictures of the deceased with candles around it.
This is the most important tradition in Mexico, we honor the dead, and believe that the souls of the loved ones that have passed away return home to a big party, were they are welcome with a big banquet, food, music, tequila.
So, now let´s check out the main traditions of the day of the dead.
1. The altar at the cemetery
As I mentioned, the altar is to honor the dead and welcome him/her back with food, music, flowers and a lot of candles. The belief is that the soul returns to the grave this particular days.
2. Pan de Muerto, or bread of the dead
It is customary to leave this bread at the altar, and as well to bake it and eat it, it is baked on different shapes the more common is a circle with bands on top as a symbol of the bones, sugar is spread on top.
It is delicious and the week before this day every baker and super market are filled with this bread. Nowadays, they fill them with chocolate, cajeta (it is like dulce de leche) or jam.
3. Writing catrinas
In Mexico the death is perceived in a very weird manner, as the Mexicans use it to make fun of it like a satire. They are verses that rhyme with each other, and the content is about the people that is still alive, as if they were dead.
Here is an example is Spanish:
“La muerte trajo manzanas
Para todos en el salón
Pero estaban envenenadas
Todos se fueron al panteón”
“The death brought apples,
For everyone on the class.
But they were poisoned
And everyone went to the cemetery”
I know that in English is not the same, as the rhyme is not the same, but trust me the Mexican is very resourceful, and the written catrinas are very funny.
4. Sweet skulls
The skulls also are made of sugar or chocolate. It is a very important item on the altar, it is used to remember that the only sure thing in life is death, and ironically it is also a common thing to give a sweet skull to the people who are still alive as a symbol or wish of long life.
5. Cempasuchil Flower
It means the flower with 20 petals, In the US is it known as Mary Gold. It only appears after the rainy season which in Mexico is on October, for this reason it has become one of the most important things on the altar. The Mayans and the Aztecs choose this flower for the altars and to honor the dead, tradition that stuck until our time. It is a beautiful flower that it has also known to cure stomach diseases.
The color of the death in Pre-hispanic Mexico (before the spaniards came to conquer), was yellow, that´s why the cempasuchil flower is used on the altars.
The Catrina has been an artistic symbol and has helped Mexicans to loose the fear of death and to mock about it.
In recent years there has been a parade on Mexico City, over the weekend (if November 2nd falls on a weekday), where the catrina or skeletons are the main character. People dressed as catrinas take over the streets of Mexico´s capital city.
Next time you are in Mexico try to make it on this time of year! It is amazing to see Paseo de la Reforma (main avenue) filled with cempasuchil flower and all the altars around the city.
I hope you enjoyed this post and share this incredible tradition with friends and family.