One of the defining things that make us human is thinking about and remembering the dead. Thinking about an afterlife, reincarnation, heaven, for just the spirits of one's ancestors is a very human thing and speaks of the imagination, love, and abstract reasoning of humanity. In much of Asia, there are special festivals to remember the deceased ancestors, like the "Tomb Sweeping Festival" in China. Italy also has its own festivals and they are also worth booking a vacation to see!
In Mexico, remembering the dead takes a whole different flavor with their Día de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. While not only observed in Mexico, it originated in Mexico and Mexico is where it is most famous and authentic. Mexico is also world-famous for its celebrations of the Carnival as well and everyone should visit.
A Fusion Of Cultures
The celebration has its origin in the Catholic celebrations of All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day. In addition, it is also a reaffirmation of indigenous life. But in typical Latino fashion, it is much less solemn and much more joyful. It involves families and friends gathering to pay respects and remembering the family and friends who have passed on.
- Fusion: Fusion Of Catholic Celebrations And Native Beliefs And Customs
- Date: 1st and 2nd of November
- Halloween: A Dark Night Of Terror (Even if Tongue In Cheek Now)
- Day Of The Dead: A Celebration of Life And Joy
The native Toltec and other Nahua people considering mourning the dead disrespectful. They thought of death as a natural phase of the continuum of life. The dead remain members of the community and during this celebration, they temporarily return to Earth. So one can think of the Día de Los Muertos of today as a fusion or mashup of old pre-Columbian religious rites with Christain feasts.
- Disrespectful: To The Native Toltec, Mourning The Dead Was Disrespectful
The Day of the Dead should not be thought of as a Mexican version of Halloween. While Halloween is a dark night of terror and mischief, the Day of the Dead is full of joy and color and the celebration of life. It is a time of remembering the departed with parades, parties, song and dance, and offerings of food and drink with revelers donning funky makeup and eye-catching costumes.
About The Day Of The Dead
The term "cultural heritage" is more than just physical monuments and ruins. The idea also includes living expressions of culture. In recognition of the Day of the Dead, UNESCO added it to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
- Listed: By UNSECO As An Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
While in traditional Western and East Asian culture, remembering the dead is solemn. In a way that would leave many other cultures in the world spellbound, the celebrations take on a joyful and humorous tone. Celebrants remember funny anecdotes of the departed.
Central to the celebrations is the altar or "ofrenda." These are built in homes and cemeteries to welcome spirits back to the land of the living and are loaded with food and drink.
Another important aspect is the "Calavera" or "skull," The idea of this has changed over time from originally being sarcastic tombstone epitaphs poking fun at the living to the elegant skull it is today. According to the Day of The Dead Holiday website,
"The skulls are often drawn with a smile as to laugh at death itself. They take many forms such as sugar candies, clay decorations, and most memorable: face painting. Sugar skulls are decorated and placed on friends of loved ones."
To learn more about the Day of the Dead, see the dedicated website linked above.
- Pan de Muerto: Bread Of The Dead, A Sweet Bread (Pan Dulce) Decorated With Bones And Skulls
- Sugar Skull: Part of A Sugar Art Tradition From 17th Century Italian Missionaries
Mass Celebrations and Parades
To really celebrate this must-see festival one needs to be in Mexico - Mexico City if possible. Plan ahead as hotels may sell out! Oddly enough, now there are Day of the Dead parades in Mexico City - but they are not traditional.
- Parades: Large Parades Are A Response To Hollywood
This is actually in response to the 2015 James Bond film, Spectre where the opening scenes show a massive Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. There were never such parades in Mexico City, but due to the interest in the film, the government has been holdings parades there through Paseo de la Reforma and Centro Historico since 2016. The idea of massive celebrations was also popularized in Coco by Disney Pixar.
Mexico City Parades
- Duration: 4.5 Hours
- When: 31 October at 12:00 pm
- Cost: Free To The Public