A Celebration of Death Among the Dead

By Mara Alonso

Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, is a celebration of the family members and loved ones that have passed away and is celebrated in Mexico from October 28 to November 2.

Mexican culture is widely known for its traditions closely related to the theme of death. From the worshiping of La Santa Muerte (Holy Death), a semi-religious figure personifying death itself, to the openly practices of brujeria (witchcraft) in mercados (markets), Mexico is no stranger to the celebration of death.

As a nation that is primarily Catholic, Mexico embodies the religious elements of connecting the spirit to a higher being and using that connection to contact the spirits of dead ancestors.

Dia de los muertos is celebrated from October 28 to November 2, with three significant days dedicated to a certain group of dead souls. The holiday begins on October 28, with the remembrance of people who were murdered. It is followed by the tribute to deceased children on October 31 and ends with the people who died of natural causes on November 1.

Festivities include putting up ofrendas, which are offerings of flowers and the favorite food and drinks of deceased loved ones, that spiritually feed them by smell during their visit. Popular food options for ofrendas include, Mexican bread, such as pan de muerto (bread of the dead), which is a dome-shaped, sweet bread often accompanied with Champurrado (chocolate based drink). La flor de muerto (flower of the dead), Mexican Marigold is the most common type of flower used for ofrendas. Calaveras (skulls) made out of sugar, are also placed as offerings. In order for family and loved ones to reach the offerings, many people leave trails of flowers to guide them.

On November 1, the flowers of the offerings are taken to cemeteries and people decorate and clean the tombstones of where their loved ones’ rest. This is when the biggest celebrations begin, with people spending the day and night singing, praying, and talking to their deceased ancestors. Some will start bonfires and others bring Mariachis to commemorate the souls that live on after death. More rural neighborhoods, with graves that do not have tombstones will scatter fresh dirt, as if the dead were recently buried.

Instead of trick or treating, some neighborhoods have choirs that sing outside the houses of parents who have lost children and in return the singers receive sugar skulls, bread, and fruit. Other pueblos (towns) have a group of Las Mojiganas, who are men that dress as women with masks and ask for candy as they sing from door to door. While trick or treating has not made its way into small towns, it has become increasingly popular in bigger Mexican cities.

By November 2, festivities come to an end and the spirits of the dead that came to visit leave. Dia de los Muertos is one big party to celebrate both the dead and death itself as an inevitable thing.

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