Day of the Dead



The Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos or Día de los Muertos in Spanish) is a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico and the Mexican immigrant community living in the United States, with variations of it also observed in other Latin American countries and other parts of the world. The Mexican celebration occurs on November 1 (All Saints' Day) and November 2 (All Souls' Day).

Though the subject matter may be considered morbid from the perspective of some other cultures, celebrants typically approach the Day of the Dead joyfully, and though it occurs roughly at the same time as Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls Day, the traditional mood is much brighter with emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, and celebrating the continuation of life; the belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life. In Mexico and Mexican immigrant communities in the United States and Europe, the Day of the Day is of particular cultural importance.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated to a lesser extent in other Latin American countries; for example, it is a public holiday in Brazil, where many Brazilians celebrate it by visiting cemeteries and churches. The holiday is also observed in the Philippines. Observance of the holiday in Mexican-American communities in the United States have become more important and widespread as the community grows both numerically and economically each generation. Similarly-themed celebrations also appear in some Asian and African culture.

Enlarge picture
Sugar skull given for the Day of the Dead, also made with chocolate and amaranto

Observance in Mexico

Origins

The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous peoples such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mexica, Maya, P'urhépecha, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years.[1] In the post-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl,[2] known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern Catrina.

In most regions of Mexico November 1st honors deceased children and infants whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2nd.[3]

Beliefs


Some Mexicans feel that death is a special occasion, but with elements of celebration, because the soul is passing into another life. Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of November 1 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate the graves.[4] Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigold called "cempasuchil", originally named cempaxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty flowers", in modern Mexico this name is often replaced with the term "Flor de Muerto", Spanish for "Flower of the Dead". These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead") or sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased.[4] Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrenda food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivity, they believe it lacks nutritional value. The pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes.[4] These altars usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, and scores of candles. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing so when they dance the dead will wake up because of the noise. Some will dress up as the deceased.

Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.


Those with writing talent sometimes create short poems, called "calaveras" ("skulls"), mocking epitaphs of friends, sometimes with things they used to do in life. This custom originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, "and all of us were dead", proceeding to "read" the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of José Guadalupe Posada. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.

Enlarge picture
Pan de muerto, traditionally eaten on the holiday
A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), and foods such as sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.


The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. For example, in the town of Pátzcuaro on the Lago de Pátzcuaro in Michoacán the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child's death, the godparents set a table in the parents' home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a Rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child’s life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for "butterfly") to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.

In contrast, the town of Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos opens its doors to visitors in exchange for 'veladoras' (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently dead. In return, the visitors receive tamales and 'atole'. This is only done by the owners of the house where somebody in the household has died in the previous year. Many people of the surrounding areas arrive early to eat for free and enjoy the elaborate altars set up to receive the visitors from 'Mictlán'.

In some parts of the country, children in costumes roam the streets, asking passersby for a calaverita, a small gift of money; they don't knock on people's doors.

Some people believe that possessing "dia de los muertos" items can bring good luck. Many people get tattoos or have dolls of the dead to carry with them

Observances outside Mexico

United States

In many U.S. communities with immigrants from Mexico, Day of the Dead celebrations are held, very similar to those held in Mexico. In some of these communities, such as in Texas[7] and Arizona,[8] the celebrations tend to be mostly traditional. For example, the All Souls’ Procession has been an annual Tucson rite since 1990. It was begun by artist Susan Kay Johnson as a way to process her feelings about her father’s death. She combined elements of traditional Dia de los Muertos celebrations with those of pagan harvest festivals. The first procession had 35 participants but the 2005 process had over 7000. The parade progresses from Fourth Avenue to the downtown Tucson area, with people in masks, carrying signs honouring the dead and an urn in which people can put slips of paper with prayers on them to be burned.[9]

In other communities, interactions between Mexican traditions and American culture are resulting in celebrations in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic or sometimes political statements. For example, in Los Angeles, California, the Self Help Graphics & Art Mexican-American cultural center presents an annual Day of the Dead celebration, that includes both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War highlighting the high casualty rate among Latino soldiers. An updated, inter-cultural version of the Day of the Dead is also evolving at a cemetery near Hollywood.[10] There, in a mixture of Mexican traditions and Hollywood hip, conventional altars are set up side-by-side with altars to Jayne Mansfield and Johnny Ramone. Colorful native dancers and music intermix with performance artists, while sly pranksters play on traditional themes.

Similar traditional and inter-cultural updating of Mexican celebrations is occurring in San Francisco,[11] for example through the Galería de la Raza, SomArts Cultural Center, Mission Cultural Center, de Young Museum, and in Missoula, Montana, where skeletal celebrants on stilts, novelty bicycles, and skis parade through town.[12] It also occurs annually at historic Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Sponsored by Forest Hills Educational Trust and the folkloric performance group La Piňata, the Day of the Dead celebration celebrates the cycle of life and death. People bring offerings of flowers, photos, mementos, and food for their departed loved ones which they place at an elaborately and colorfully decorated altar. A program of traditional music and dance also accompanies the community event.

Europe

Observance of a Mexican-style Day of the Dead has spread to Europe as well. In Prague, Czech Republic, for example, local citizens celebrate the Day of the Dead with masks, candles and sugar skulls.[13]

Similar celebrations

Guatemala

Guatemalan celebrations of the Day of the Dead are highlighted by the construction and flying of giant kites[14] in addition to the traditional visits to gravesites of ancestors. A big event also is the consumption of Fiambre that is made only for this day during the whole year.[15]

Brazil

The Brazilian public holiday of "Finados" (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 2. Similar to other Day of the Dead celebrations, people go to cemeteries and churches, with flowers, candles, and prayer. The celebration is intended to be positive, to celebrate those who are deceased.

Philippines

In the Philippines, it is called Araw ng mga Patay (Day of the Dead), Todos Los Santos or Undas (the latter two due to the fact that this holiday is celebrated on November 1, All Saints Day), designated by the Roman Catholic Church), and has more of a "family reunion" atmosphere. It is said to be an "opportunity to be with" the departed and is done in a somewhat solemn way. Tombs are cleaned or repainted, candles are lit, and flowers are offered. Since it is supposed to be about spending time with dead relatives, families usually camp in cemeteries, and sometimes spend a night or two near their relatives' tombs. Card games, eating, drinking, singing and dancing are common activities in the cemetery, probably to alleviate boredom. It is considered a very important holiday by many Filipinos (after Christmas and Holy Week), and additional days are normally given as special nonworking holidays (but only November 1 is a regular holiday).

Haiti

In Haiti, voodoo traditions mix with Roman Catholic Day of the Dead observances, as, for example, loud drums and music are played at all-night celebrations at cemeteries to waken Baron Samedi, the god of the dead, and his mischievous family of offspring, the Gede.[16]

Europe

In many countries with a Roman Catholic heritage, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have long been holidays where people take the day off work, go to cemeteries with candles and flowers, and give presents to children, usually sweets and toys.[17] In Portugal and Spain, ofrendas (offerings) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In Poland,[18] Slovakia,[19] Hungary,[20] Lithuania,[21] Croatia,[22] Romania,[23] Austria and Germany, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.In Tyrol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls.[24]

Japan

The Bon Festival (O-bon (お盆) or only Bon () is a Japanese Buddhist holiday to honor the departed spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist festival has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people from the big cities return to their home towns and visit and clean their ancestors' graves. Traditionally including a dance festival, it has existed in Japan for more than 500 years. This holiday is three days in August.

Korea

In Korea, Chuseok is a major traditional holiday, also called Hankawi (한가위,中秋节). People go where the spirits of one's ancestors are enshrined, and perform ancestral worship rituals early in the morning; they visit the tombs of immediate ancestors to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors.

Chinese beliefs

The Qingming Festival (Traditional Chinese: 清明節; Simplified Chinese: 清明节; Pinyin: qīng míng jié) is a traditional Chinese festival usually occurring around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar. Along with Double Ninth Festival on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar, it is a time to tend to the graves of departed ones. In addition, in the Chinese tradition, the seventh month in the Chinese calendar is called the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits come out from the underworld to visit earth.

Nepal

During the Nepali holiday of Gai Jatra ("Cow Pilgrimage") every family where a family member died during the previous year makes a construction of bamboo branches, cloth, paper decorations and portraits of the deceased, called a "gai." Traditionally, a cow leads the spirits of the dead into the next land. Depending on local custom, either an actual live cow, or a construct representing a cow may be used. The festival is also a time to dress up in costume, including costumes involving political comments and satire.[25]

African cultures

In some cultures in Africa, visits to the graves of ancestors, the leaving of food and gifts, and the asking of protection, serve as important parts of traditional rituals. One example of this is the ritual that occurs just before the beginning of hunting. season.[26]

In fiction

  • The novel Under the Volcano (1947) by Malcolm Lowry takes place in on this day in a fictionalized Cuernavaca, Morelos.
  • Ray Bradbury's novel The Halloween Tree (1972) includes an explanation of the holiday as part of a greater worldwide tradition, and features a Mexican sugar skull as a key plot device.
  • The PC game Grim Fandango is inspired by the Day of the Dead and features imagery greatly drawn from the festival including characters reminiscent of the skeletal calaca figures.
  • Barbara Hambly's novel Days Of The Dead (2003) sets its climax on this day in 1835.
  • Although George A. Romero's Day of the Dead has no clear ties to the holiday, using the name incidentally (the title plays off the preceding films Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead), there are a few connections. Aside from the film's theme of resurrection of the dead, there are references to the fact that with the exception of the final scene, the entire film is set within the first two days of November.
  • In the film version of "Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban" (2004), some traditional day-of-the-dead sugar skulls can be seen in storage shelves while Harry enters the candy store Honeydukes through the secret passage. This is an inside joke as the director of the movie is mexican Alfonso Cuarón.

See also

Notes

1. ^ History of Day of the Dead
2. ^ Salvador, R. J. (2003). What Do Mexicans Celebrate On The Day Of The Dead? Pp. 75-76, IN Death and Bereavement in the Americas. Death, Value And Meaning Series, Vol. II. Morgan, J. D. And P. Laungani (Eds.) Baywood Publishing Co., Amityville, New York. Available online at: [1]
3. ^ Palfrey, Dale (1995). The Day of the Dead. Mexico Connect. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
4. ^ Salvador (2030)
5. ^
6. ^ Salvador (2003)
7. ^ Celebration in Port Isabel, Texas
8. ^ Celebrations in Arizona
9. ^ White, Erin (November 5 2006). "All Souls Procession". Arizona Daily Star: 1-20. Retrieved on 21-09-2007.November%205%202006&rft.aulast=White&rft.aufirst=Erin&rft.pages=1-20&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.highbeam.com%2Fdoc%2F1G1-153859362.html"> 
10. ^ Making a night of Day of the Dead Los Angeles Times October 18, 2006; accessed November 26, 2006.
11. ^ See newspaper article, and see photos.
12. ^ Photos of Missoula, Montana Day of the Dead parade.
13. ^ Day of the Dead in Prague.
14. ^ Visit to cemetery in Guatemala
15. ^ Observance in Guatemala Accessed June 11, 2007.
16. ^ Haitian celebrations of Day of the Dead
17. ^ All Saints Day celebrations in Italy
18. ^ Polish observance Accessed June 11, 2007.
19. ^ Slovakia observance. Accessed June 11, 2007.
20. ^ Hungary observance. Accessed June 11, 2007.
21. ^ Lithuanian observance. Accessed June 11, 2007
22. ^ Croatian observance. Accessed June 11, 2007.
23. ^ Romanian observance. Accessed June 11, 2007.
24. ^ See All Saints Day, All Souls Day.
25. ^ Nepali holiday honoring the dead. Accessed June 11, 2007
26. ^ African ancestor ritual; Importance in many traditional religions throughout all of Africa serve as communications with ancestors

Further reading

  • Brandes, Stanley. “The Day of the Dead, Halloween, and the Quest for Mexican National Identity.” Journal of American Folklore 442 (1998) : 359-80.
  • Brandes, Stanley. “Sugar, Colonialism, and Death: On the Origins of Mexico’s Day of the Dead” Comparative Studies in Sociology and History 39.2 (1997): 270-299
  • Brandes, Stanly. “Iconogaphy in Mexico’s Day of the Dead.” Ethnohistory 45.2(1998):181-218
  • Carmichael, Elizabeth. Sayer, Chloe. The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico. Great Britain: The Bath Press, 1991.
  • Conklin, Paul. “Death Takes A Holiday.” U.S. Catholic 66 (2001) : 38-41.
  • Garcia-Rivera, Alex. “Death Takes a Holiday.” U.S. Catholic 62 (1997) : 50.
  • Roy, Ann. “A Crack Between the Worlds.” Commonwealth 122 (1995) : 13-16
  • Shawn D. Haley and Curt Fukuda DAY OF THE DEAD: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca, Berhahn Books, 2004.

External links

Dia De Los Muertos is the Spanish name for the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead.

Dia De Los Muertos can also refer to:
  • Dia De Los Muertos (album), an album by the rap group Los Nativos.
  • Dia De Los Muertos (film), a 2007 film by Alpha Studios

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 Spanish, Castilian
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All Saints, also sometimes known as All Saints' Day, All Hallows or Hallowmas ("hallows" meaning "saints," and "mas" meaning "Mass"), is a feast celebrated November 1 in honour of all the saints, known and unknown.
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All Souls' Day commemorates the faithful departed. This day is observed especially in the Roman Catholic Church but also in Anglicanism and to some extent also among Protestants. The Eastern Orthodox Church observes several All Souls' Days during the year.
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All Saints, also sometimes known as All Saints' Day, All Hallows or Hallowmas ("hallows" meaning "saints," and "mas" meaning "Mass"), is a feast celebrated November 1 in honour of all the saints, known and unknown.
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All Souls' Day commemorates the faithful departed. This day is observed especially in the Roman Catholic Church but also in Anglicanism and to some extent also among Protestants. The Eastern Orthodox Church observes several All Souls' Days during the year.
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Latin America (Portuguese and Spanish: América Latina; French: Amérique Latine) is the region of the Americas where Romance languages, those derived from Latin (particularly Spanish and Portuguese), are primarily spoken.
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Mixtec (or Mixteca) are an indigenous Mesoamerican people inhabiting the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The Mixtecan languages form an important branch of the Otomanguean linguistic family.
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Mexica (Nahuatl: Mēxihcah, IPA: [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ]) or Mexicans (Spanish: Mexicanos
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P'urhépecha, sometimes referred to as Tarascan or Purépecha are an indigenous people centered in the northwestern region of the Mexican state Michoacán, principally in the area of the cities of Uruapan and Patzcuaro.
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Totonac people resided in the eastern coastal and mountainous regions of Mexico at the time of the Spanish arrival in 1519. Today they reside in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo.
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The Aztec calendar is the calendar system that was used by the Aztecs as well as other Pre-Columbian peoples of central Mexico. It is one of the Mesoamerican calendars, sharing the basic structure of calendars from throughout ancient Mesoamerica.
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In Aztec mythology, Mictecacihuatl is the Queen of Mictlan, the underworld, and wife of Mictlantecuhtli. Her purpose is to keep watch over the bones of the dead. She presides over the festivals of the dead (which evolved into the modern Day of the Dead) and is known as the Lady of
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La Calavera de la Catrina is a 1913 zinc etching by the deceased printmaker José Guadalupe Posada. The image has since become a staple of Mexican imagery, and is often incorporated into artistic manifestations of the Day of the Dead such as altars and calavera
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