Dia de Muertos is an annual Mexican festival particularly in central and south regions as well as by people of the Mexican diaspora. The two-day long festival honors the departed family members. Unlike other festivals for honoring the dead that tends to have a somber tone, dia de Muertos proves to be quite the celebration. The holiday is sometimes also referred to as Dia de Los Muertos in Anglophone countries.
History of Dia de Muertos
The history of the festival travels as back as the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahuan people. Among these civilizations, mourning the dead has considered disrespectful. For them, death was a natural path to life. The dead have still considered being a part of the community, have kept alive in spirit and memory. They believed that it is during the time frame of which dia de Muertos falls, the dead would return to the earth, temporarily.
Before the sixteenth century, the festival had celebrated at the beginning of the summer. It was only after the Spanish colonization did this shift to November to coincide with the western Christian traditions such as Halloween and all saints’ day. It has now observed from the thirty first of October to the second of November, where the 31st is Halloween and 1st, and 2nd of November is the ‘day of the children’ and ‘all souls’ day’ respectively.
Traditions and Rituals in Dia de Muertos
Contrary to popular beliefs, Dia de Muertos is not the Mexican version of Halloween. While Halloween has a spookier sense to it, this festival is more about honoring the dead.
It is also rife with many rituals and traditions symbolic of the day.
1. Calacas and Calaveras
A prominent symbol of this day is that of skeletons and skulls. People usually wear skull masks and eat sugar candy molded in the shape of heads. Moreover, the skulls have a unique form and have often represented with a drawn on a smile, to laugh at death itself.
2. Altars and decorations
There are altars present which are decorated with bright, vibrant flowers. The shrines are the centerpiece of the celebration and are often built in private homes or cemeteries. They are meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. These altars have the photos of the dead placed on them with offerings (water, food, family photos, and a candle for each dead relative) these altars are individually adorned with marigold as they are native to Mexico and Latin America and also represent the beauty and fragility of life.
The offerings placed on the altar typically include dishes that were a favorite of the departed person. Some other standard offerings include Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls. Drinks include pulque (a sweet fermented beverage made from agave sap).
This extremely secular holiday entails people spilling on to the streets at all hours of the day and night. People of all ages have their faces painted to resemble skulls while donning on suits and fancy dresses. Many people even wear shells to amp up the noise.
Also read, The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival.