Día de los Muertos – UPDATE

Happy November 1st (and 2nd in advance) to all of you. While some of you might call it All Saints Day (Allerheiligen in Germany) many call it the día de los muertos – the day of the dead.

UPDATE: Be sure to not miss the follow-up on this story: a very special guest entry to this blog with a personal description of an ofrenda, how the special altars are called. You can find this great report of T.T. on altar symbols here.

Halloween is over, and already comes the next celebration of something dead, this time far more serious.

Many people will know about the existence of the día de los muertos and what roughly happens that day. Depending on the culture and region, the people in Mexico and Central America prepare over weeks for that celebration of the dead, which is a matter of joy. They build small altars on which they put things, that are connected to a special person. They prepare the favourite food of the deceased one, and often play his/her favourite music. You also often find candles on the altar, they originally lighted the way to the underworld. There are a also a lot of sweets, sometimes skulls made of sugar or chocolate. Another famous symbol for el día de los muertos – probably the most famous one – is La Catrina.

La Catrina

In today’s belief, people honor the dead at this day, which actually come to the earth at this day to celebrate with their relatives and loved ones. It is an official holiday, cause the folk belief got adopted by the Catholic Church to the all saints day, but origins from a much older Aztec rite: the festival de muertos. In its form today, it’s a mixture of Catholic and Aztec traditions. In some areas like the Yucatan peninsula, there is a similar celebration, called Hanal Pixán. However, the ancient Maya didn’t have a comparable celebration to the festival de muertos; they did however constantly honor the dead by burying them in their houses or caves and building shrines.

The Aztec celebration of this day is rather similar to today, though there is no general opinion about how the celebration really took place. What is sure is, that it was taking place in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, and then celebrated for the whole month. The deity of this month was Mictlantecuhtli, literally the “Lord of Mictlan”. Mictlan was the Aztec underworld, in which all dead had to travel, which is why they received goods in their burial place. Those goods – mostly food or flowers – then were presented to Mictlantecuhtli and his wife Mictecacihuatl, literally the “queen of Mictlan”. Mictecacihuatl is nowadays symbolized by already mentioned Catrina.

"Stop! Goods please!"

"Yeah, uh... What he said!"

Giving the dead flowers and food is what still happens today. And according to some scholars, there were also beliefs, that the dead return to the earth at the ninth month. The celebration is full of color and joy of life, a family celebration.

Tidying and decorating graves
picture: AlejandroLinaresGarcia/wikimedia.org/cc-by-sa

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