Día de Muertos, or why all this is about....

I guess this is my chance to explain a little about Día de Muertos, as it is celebrated today.

As a Mexican, living all my life in Mexico City, I’ve grown with deep understanding about many mexican things. Such as tacos, piñatas, chocolate, aztec pyramids, mayan pyramids, corruption, earthquakes, “marchas” (protest marches), mariachis, chiles, Frida Khalo, cinco de mayo, and countless traditions. One of them being “Día de Muertos”, that means: “Day of the Death”.

Variety of clay skulls at Mixquic. 

In the Día de Muertos we celebrate our relationship with death. We remember our loved ones, those who have had passed away, and are now in a better place.

This Mexican tradition is well known across the world, and UNESCO considers it Intangible Cultural World Heritage of Humanity. Its popularity is due to the evident blend between Spanish and pre-Hispanic indigenous lore. 

Cemeteries are decorated with Cempasúchitl flowers.
In the time before the Spaniards arrived to this side of the world, the pre-Hispanic culture had a very special concept about the act of dying, if someone died, an altar decorated with abundant flowers and different foods preferred by the deceased was granted.

 The diseased was buried with clay objects and other items necessary for his trip to the underworld, they also thought that the souls of the dead went to a different place , depending on how they had died; this idea was similar to that preached by Christianity about the existence of a heaven and hell. That mixture of beliefs about death originated the Día de Muertos, which today represents a touch of joy and union to establish a bridge between life and death. This tradition preserves the custom of placing an altar with cempasúchil flowers, chopped paper, clay toys and typical foods for this date such as: mole, tamales, pumpkin candy and sugar skulls. It is also important to place pictures of the people we want to remember. As Mexico is a very religious country, this “fiesta” maintains a deep religious character, since the mass celebrated to say goodbye to the souls of the deceased on November 2nd is a custom inherited from the 6th century Christianity.

But, there is more to it. Our celebration does not last for only one day; it takes up to three complete days, starting in the last day of October.

October 31st. “La ofrenda” (the offering) is prepared with a table of three levels that signify: the sky, the earth and the underworld; a white tablecloth is placed, a glass of water to mitigate the thirst of souls, a plate with salt and incense to purify the souls and a path of flower petals of cempasuchil is placed outside the house to indicate the way. On this day we remember our children so we also place at the altar, sweets and typical candies, a candle for each child of the family and one more for the forgotten souls or who no longer have one who light candles for them.

November 1st. At twelve o’ clock will ring the bells at the temple to say farewell to the little souls, and a the same time, the souls of adults will arrive. Objects dedicated to children are removed from the altar and instead are placed the foods and drinks that were of the taste of the elderly, including pulque, tequila, beer and cigars. One candle is placed for each deceased person in the family and one more for the lost souls or for those who no longer has anyone to light one for them.

In the altars, we place the favourite food of our death relatives.

At 8:00 in the evening the bells will ring and a rosary will be offered for the souls that accompany us. They are served dinner with tamales and atole or punch made with guavas, cinnamon, sugar cane, tamarind pulp and brown sugar.

November 2nd. At noon, the last chimes sound to announce the departure of the adult souls who have visited us. It is at this moment that the families go to the cemetery to clean the tombs, decorate them and leave them ready for the return of our dead in the night. Some people like to dine at the cemetery and share food with their dead. So, by night the entire place is surrounded in candlelight, people feast on top of the tombs, they sing, they laugh, the cry but above all, they remember those who took a step ahead of us to the afterlife.

Family cleaning and decorating the tomb.













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