El Dia de los Muertosby Matthew Gillies
Yearly, people from around the world gather with friends and family. They decorate their houses, dress in costumes and enjoy dinner feasts as they celebrate customary traditions; Christmas; Diwali; Kwanzaa; Thanksgiving; and Easter to name a few.
However, while each holiday celebrates life and fellowship, none go as far as encompassing those they have lost the way el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) has.
Celebrated from October 31 to November 2, the Day of the Dead is a product of two cultural influences. Incorporating duel concepts of Catholic theology and Aztec beliefs to celebrate and honor the passing of loved ones, the Day of the Dead is an annual festival celebrated in Mexico and other areas of the United States and South America.
To celebrate the Day of the Dead, people visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and adorn the gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for deceased children and bottles of tequila for the adults.
While the Day of the Dead may sound like a variation of Halloween, its history is rich in celebrating the death, not as a phenomenon of conclusion, but a continuation forward. With Western society’s view of death being ominous and at times punishable, the Aztecs viewed death as being fully awake while life, to them, was merely a dream.
Terms used during el Dia de los Muertos:
Ofrenda, in English is known as an offering, or an altar. While some people visit the graves of their loved ones, others will build altars in their homes which will consist of photos of the one being honored.
Pan de los muertos, known as bread of the dead, is sweet bread baked in round loaves or skull-shaped.
Papel picado are Mexican tissue-paper decorations, often depicting shapes of calaveras.
Calaveras (Skull/skeleton) are whimsical renditions of skulls and skeletons used in various forms of artwork, toys and shadowboxes. Calaveras are given a playful appearance as a means of poking fun of death to show the Mexicans’ progressiveness to death.
Cempazuchitl or marigold flowers are an Aztec symbol for death and mean the flower with 400 lives. Marigolds are used to decorate graves and altars of the loved ones.
Copal is incense made from pine resin used by Aztecs to attract the souls of the dead and ward off evil spirits.
Alfenique are sugar skulls colored with icing and shaped as skulls. Often adorning the names of the deceased and eaten by friends and families.