With Day of the Dead festivities becoming popular around the world and with blending the American tradition of Halloween, let's take a look at this famous festival and its origins:
Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead has its origins in pre-Colombian Mexican traditions originating 2000-3000 years ago, with rituals to honour the dead. When the Spanish arrived bringing Christianity, they tried to quash many of the local traditions, but were certainly unsuccessful in this regard and local traditions merged with events on the Christian calendar, All Saints Day and All Souls day. Now Day of the Dead is celebrated on 1st and 2nd November each year. The 1st November is the date to honour the children that have passed from this world and the 2nd November, to honour the adults.
Nowadays, Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico, especially in the central and southern states and in countries like the United States, who have a larger Mexican population. Over these days people go to the cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of loved ones, and even spend the night at the graveside to socialize and tell funny stories about their dead ancestors. People make ofrendas (altars) at the gravesite or in their home or even in offices and public buildings. These ofrendas are a magical site, covered with flowers, in particular the Marigold, the flower of the dead, sugar/candy skulls and special breads. Photos of loved ones (and even beloved family pets) that have passed are placed on the altars, alongside bottles of tequila, beer, dishes of food - the favourite drinks and meals of those that have passed.Candles and incense are everywhere! Basically the idea is to light the way for the souls to come back to earth to be with their loved ones once again for the night.
To share this celebration with others people attend street parties, parades and amazing festivals.
While this may sound strange, sad and scary, the idea and belief is certainly not this way. It is a joyous celebration of life and a time to remember and reflect. Everything is colourful, lively and mischievous, many of the images of sculls and skeletons that come into sight even appear to be mocking death. The idea is not to be scared of death, to smile and enjoy life and make the most of it. Certainly a message we can all learn from.
The day of the dead is an amazing time of year to be in Mexico, and our tailor-made trips can be built around this wonderful celebration.
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By Tara Sutherland
Viva Expeditions Latin America and Antarctica Specialists