Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Halloween in Mexico-Day of the Dead

My creation, originally uploaded by carrlinewhitfield.

Today I'm posting a culture lesson. Around 4 or 5 years ago, myself and DH travel to Cancun for a small vacation around October 31, in Mexico they celebrate the Day of the Dead around the same time we celebrate Halloween which begins November 1. The Day of the Dead is probably the most widely celebrated of Mexico holidays, also known as All Saints Day. The Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout the country on November 1st. Mixing pre-Hispanic traditions with widely held catholic beliefs, The Day of the Dead is one of the most sacred and fascinating holidays of Mexico. Families honor their own deceased ancestors, along with catholic saints, by creating an altar in their home with representative artifacts and food. The food is later enjoyed by the family in a ceremony that celebrates death and life, and the cycle that unites them both. In Mexico City, the entire city has been covered in skeletons. Far from being considered morbid, children line the streets with cakes shaped like skeleton heads, and various skeleton puppets and toys can be found nearly everywhere. I once read that bones of the dead would be stored in a box and taken out during the holiday dusted and cleaned.

In Prehispanic times the dead were buried close to family homes (sometimes in a tomb underneath the house) and there was great emphasis on maintaining ties with deceased ancestors, who were believed to continue to exist on a different plane. With the arrival of the Spaniards and Catholicism, All Souls' and All Saints' Day practices were incorporated into Prehispanic beliefs and customs and Day of the Dead came to be celebrated.

The belief behind Day of the Dead practices is that spirits return to the Earth for one day of the year to be with their families. It is said that the spirits of babies and children who have died (called angelitos, "little angels") arrive on October 31st at midnight, spend an entire day with their families and then leave. Adults come the following day.

Day of the Dead Altars:
The spirits are greeted with offerings of food and things that the person enjoyed in life. These are laid out on a Day of the Dead altar in the family home. It is believed that the spirits consume the essence and the aroma of the foods that are offered. When the spirits depart, the living consume the food and share it with their family, friends and neighbors.

Other items that are placed on the altar include sugar skulls, often with the person's name inscribed on the top, pan de muertos, a special bread that is made especially for the season, and cempasuchil (marigolds) which bloom at this time of year and lend a special fragrance to the altar.

In the Cemeteries:
In ancient times people were buried close to their family homes and there was no need to have separate grave decorations and home altars, these were together in one place. Now that the dead are buried away from their homes, graves are decorated with the idea that the dead return there first. In some villages flower petals are laid in paths from the cemetery to the home so that the spirits will be able to find their way.

In some places it is customary to spend the whole night in the cemetery, and people make a party of it, having a picnic supper, playing music, talking and drinking through the night.

Day of the Dead and Halloween:
Day of the Dead and Halloween have some commonalities. They both come from early cultures' beliefs about death that later mixed with Christianity. They are both based in the idea that the spirits return at that time of year. Customs around Halloween seem to stem from the idea that the spirits were malevolent (children were disguised so that they wouldn't be harmed), whereas in Day of the Dead festivities, the spirits are joyfully welcomed as family members that one hasn't seen in a year celebrate Day of the Dead. (FROM THE INTERNET)

It was a fun vacation and one I would love to do over.


Nola @ Alamo North said...

How funny, I posted about papel picado, the ancient folkart that Mexican people used to decorate for the day of the dead, among other things. I don't think I mentioned day of the dead specifically, but I have a link where you can read the whole story. I guess great minds do work together!

Becky said...

That was a very interesting post. I learned alot. Thank you for sharing it with us.