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A Traditional Family Reunion: Some Things to Know About Day of the Dead

by planetnomad on November 1, 2013

diamuertos_cover

graphic art courtesy of:  ignite.me

HISTORY

Day of the Dead, better known as  Dia de los Muertos, is an early November tradition that is now celebrated in many countries around the world. In Mexico, it is rooted in Mesoamerican thinking that departed souls will reunite annually with their loved ones. It was originally thought that in order for that reunion to take place, the departed souls first had to successfully arrive at a place called El Mictlán. Once there, Mictecacíhuatl, “The Lady of Death” would welcome the arriving souls and keep watch over them.

Because of the nebulous path to meet up with  Mictecacíhuatl, surviving loved ones would bury the departed with those essential items for a successful and secure arrival. Items were diverse and consisted chiefly of personal things that brought joy and possibly provided a utilitarian function as well.

PRESENT DAY PRACTICES

Both November 1st and 2nd are now celebrated with each being reserved for remembrances of deceased children and adults respectively. November 1st is known as “All Saints Day” and serves as the day when families recall their departed children while November 2nd is known as “All Souls Day” and is set aside for a remembrance of adults who have passed away.

Consistent with the belief of a reunion, families set up altars, visit cemeteries and generally “welcome” their departed ones back for a visit. Some altars are built in three levels which coincide with the earth, the heavens, and an afterlife. Ofrendas, or “offerings” are then placed on the altar and are usually personal items the loved one enjoyed during the living years. For children, it’s common to see toys and candy offered, while an altar built for an adult may have a bottle of tequila and a favorite food. It’s also common to place sugar skulls and pan de muerto, or “bread of the deceased” as an offering.  Lastly, and most importantly, one will find a prominently placed photo of the loved one as well as splashes of yellow displayed by the popular cempasúchil or “flower of the dead” which aids the spirits’ journey back with the families.

Regardless of one’s beliefs on death and the practices followed upon a person’s passing, this annual ritual in Mexico and in other places around the world continues to garner attention and respect.

In fact, the value of this tradition has appealed so broadly that even in 2003, UNESCO recognized this Mexican Holiday and added it to its “List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

 

IMPORTANT TERMS

camposanto/panteon – cemetery

difunto – deceased love one

calacas – skulls

velas – candles

ofrenda – offering

luto – mourning

alma – soul

Pan de Muerto – bread of the dead

Cempasúchil – marigolds or “flower of the dead”

 

SOME POPULAR PLACES IN MEXICO FOR DIA DE MUERTOS

Oaxaca

Janitzio, Michoacan

Mixquit (Mexico City suburb)

 

DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATIONS IN THE U.S.

LOS ANGELES:  http://www.ladayofthedead.com/

SAN FRANCISCO:  http://www.dayofthedeadsf.org/

SAN ANTONIO:  http://www.sahearts.com/event/detail/441772293/Dia_de_Los_Muertos_Celebration

SAN DIEGO:  http://sddayofthedead.org/

FT. LAUDERDALE:  http://dayofthedeadflorida.com/

CORPUS CHRISTI:  http://www.diadelosmuertoscc.com/

WASHINGTON, DC:  http://latino.si.edu/education/LVMDayoftheDeadFestival.htm

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