By Jennifer Popplewell •
Published: 02 Nov 2023 • 8:30
Dia De Los Muertos
DEATH. When one hears that word, the idea of a celebration is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind. However, Dia De Los Muertos does exactly that. It celebrates death.
It may sound strange to some, but according to many beliefs, death is just as important as birth and as life itself. It is a necessary stop on the journey of the soul. Without death there is no life, and vice versa.
‘Dia De Los Muertos’ translates to ‘The Day Of The Dead’. This holiday, which is celebrated on November 1 and 2, is like a family reunion, except the special guests are deceased ancestors! This lively tradition, which originated in Mexico, is a celebration of death and a day to honour these ancestors, as families welcome back the souls of their deceased loved ones with bread, drinks and dancing. Although skeletons are usually used for scaring, on Dia De Los Muertos they are quite the opposite, they represent beauty and all that is divine. They serve as a reminder that one day we will all also just be skeletal remains, and that life today must be celebrated in the moment, because death will come to all.
The origins of The Day Of The Dead go back over 3,000 years, to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, where rituals were practised to honour the dead. The Aztecs living in what is now central Mexico held a cyclical view of the universe, and saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life. Dia De Los Muertos is a combination of the ancient Aztec custom of celebrating departed ancestors and ‘All Souls’ Day’, which is a holiday that Spanish invaders brought to Mexico when they unfortunately arrived in the early 1500s.
The beliefs behind Dia De Los Muertos are that when death arrives, that person’s soul travels to a place named ‘Chicunamictlán’, the land of the dead. However, first the soul must go through nine challenging levels, a journey of several years, only then can the soul finally reach its eternal resting place. To aid the souls of their lost family members, their loved ones provided special food, drinks and other manners of aid to help the deceased in this challenging journey. This is the ancient tradition and belief that inspired the contemporary Day Of The Dead.
The new generation, who have had this holiday passed down to them through generations, are more determined than ever to make sure this beautiful tradition is not lost. Across Mexico and other areas of South America, alongside Spanish speaking areas of the USA, many people set up the candlelit altar, the ‘ofrenda’, in their homes so that the spirits may find their way back to their relatives. The altar also offers some of the favourite foods of the deceased, especially bread. Items that were special to these ancestors when they were alive, such as a favourite photo or piece of clothing, are placed on the altar as well.
Following this ritual the family embark to the graveyard for music and dancing. Families bring a huge feast to eat while they clean tombstones, sing songs, and talk to their ancestors. Many stay all night as they believe that during this sacred time of year the tombstone must not be left alone. Some families even work in shifts, taking it in turns to go home and sleep for a few hours. Celebrators also often wear skull masks or have their face painted in a similar manner. Candy in the shape of skulls is also consumed, along with the ‘pan de muerto’, dead bread.
In conclusion, like many celebrations from various cultures around the world, Dia De Los Muertos serves as a day of remembrance, of those who we have loved and lost, as well as the special gift that is this fleeting life. It is to remember our mortality, and that what is had today will one day be gone. However, in true Mexican style, The Day Of The Day is anything but somber and serious. To celebrate like a native, make sure to wear many colours, adorn flowers wherever possible, and sing lovingly and loudly to the souls of those that you miss.
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Jennifer is a proud northerner from Sheffield, England, who is currently living in Spain. She loves swimming in rivers, talking to the stars and eating luxurious chocolate.
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