In many cultures around the world, death is easily associated with an atmosphere of mourning, gloom, and grief. But in Mexico, death becomes the theme of the festival “Day of the Dead” (Día de los Muertos). On this holiday, ceremonies take place with joy because Mexicans believe it is an opportunity for them to remember, talk to loved ones who have passed, and even create art. Here are the top 10 interesting things to know about the Day of the Dead:
Top 10 Things To Know About The Day Of The Dead
Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a Mexican holiday, celebrated on 1st – 2nd November each year. During this time, it is believed that the spirits of the dead returned to the world of the living to be with their families. It is a national holiday and many Mexicans consider it one of the most important holidays just after Christmas. It is also becoming increasingly popular around the world thanks to the expatriate Mexican diaspora. To understand how exciting this holiday really is, we’ve listed top 10 things to know about the Day of The Dead you should know:
1. The holiday dates back more than 2000 years
Day of the Dead has its origins more than 2000 years ago. In Mexican culture, death is only a stage in the boundless continuum of life. The dead are still members of the community, they are still alive in the memories of the living. And the Day of the Dead is the day when they temporarily return to the human world. This ceremony takes place on November 1 and 2, which is also around the time of the autumn corn harvest.
2. It’s not meant to be scary
Rather than being an occasion of mourning, Day of the Dead is a colorful, joyful holiday with a carnival vibe. Families decorate the gravestones of their loved ones, eat brightly colored sugar skulls and create ornate altars in their homes. Unlike Halloween, where people wear scary costumes and fear the dead, Día de los Muertos joyfully welcomes the return of spirits to the Earth.
3. Skull made of sugar and chocolate
Funny skulls with creative shapes and colors, brought back by Italian missionaries in the 17th century, have now become a feature of the festivals. Families buy or make their own skulls, carve the deceased’s name on them, and place it on the altar. In addition to the traditional sugar version, people now make skulls out of chocolate or cookies.
4. It is customary to visit cemeteries
A major part of the holiday includes going to cemeteries and spending time with the graves of loved ones. To prepare for the Day of the Dead, families will clean and wash the grave of their departed, decorate with candles and flowers like marigolds.
They will bring food that the deceased enjoyed and objects that were meaningful to them in life. In the case of children, toys will be brought to the grave. In many parts of the country, families will share a meal beside the graves of relatives and tell stories or memories of loved ones they have lost. On the Day of the Dead, a particularly interesting thing is that the cemeteries are busy and have a cozy community atmosphere.
5. Marigolds play an important role
Marigolds are such an important symbol of the Day of the Dead, that they are colloquially known as the ‘Flowers of the Dead’. Around the time of the holiday, it is seen everywhere, from altars to public buildings, graves, and even parks. Their vibrant colors and uniquely strong scent are said to help guide the spirits back to their loved ones. This flower is also linked with the sun and rebirth, having an orange color.
6. It’s actually a two day holiday
Although called ‘Day of the Dead’, this holiday actually takes place across 2 days. Traditionally, the first day of November, known as “Día de los Angelitos” or “Day of the Innocents”, is the time to welcome the spirits of deceased children. The second day of November is dedicated to celebrating the spirits of adult family members.
7. Pan de muerto – Bread of the dead
Like any special occasion in Mexico, food plays an important role. The traditional meal often includes Mexican favorites like tamales and atole, but what people look forward to most in season is dessert. The traditional dish associated with the holiday is Pan de Muertos, a delicious loaf of bread, topped with sugar and decorated to resemble a pile of bones.
8. Masquerade and Parade
During this holiday, people dress up and take to the streets to parade around the clock in large squares. They dress and make up like moving skeletons, wearing a European-style hat, in the style of Calavera Catrina – a woman in a famous Mexican painting. Many people also use seashells to make noise to wake up the dead to join in the fun.
9. Different regions have different traditions
Mexico is a very large and diverse country, and therefore, each part of the country has its own customs and traditions. So does the celebration of the Day of the Dead, which tends to vary from place to place.
In Patzcuaro, Michoacán, people arrive at the cemetery by taking a candlelit boat ride across the lake at night, while in Mixquic, people decorate the town with paper chains and stars to guide the spirits. In the Yucatán peninsula, it is customary to celebrate a holiday meal in which the main course is pib, a casserole made from corn similar to a tamale.
10. It’s recognized by UNESCO
Thanks to the efforts of UNESCO, the term “cultural heritage” is no longer limited to monuments or collections of objects. Now, this concept includes living expressions of culture – traditions passed down from generation to generation. In 2008, UNESCO recognized the importance of the Day of the Dead in Mexico and inscribed the holiday on its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
So there you have it. What do you think of 10 things to know about the Day of the Dead? It is a time to have fun and enjoy the memories and souls of those who have passed. It’s a happy time for all of Mexico!
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