Monday, October 18, 2010

Day of the Dead

Last weekend I went grocery shopping and to my surprise and anticipated pleasure, saw that Pan de Muertos was already for sale, two weeks before November 1st. Yum! Some explanations are warranted.

El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an Aztec ritual that dates back to 3000 years. To the Aztecs, life was a dream, and only after physical death did a person truly become alive. It is uncanny how those who have had a NDE (near-death experience) report that never before had they felt more alive as when they had flat-lined and left the body. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the celebration lasted about a month. In their effort to convert, the Spaniards tried to eradicate the ritual, which they considered pagan. When they realized that it was an utter failure, they moved it to All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, November 1st and 2nd. It is a celebration to honour the loved ones who have passed on. It is believed that their spirits come to visit on those days between October 31st and November 2nd and nothing is spared to guide them to their gravesite.

People visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. The families bring blankets next to the gravesites and the favourite foods of the departed. Their graves are decorated with candles and flowers, especially marigolds. A photo (or photos) of the departed is displayed. There are toys for children who died. Traditionally, the infants and children who have passed on are celebrated on November 1st, the adults on November 2nd. Tequila is brought for the adults, or whatever was the departed's favourite drink. Offerings are displayed. Sugar skulls are brilliantly decorated, sugar coffins and masks are elaborately adorned, tissue paper cut-outs are strung across the streets. Special foods are baked such as Pan de Muerto, a pastry made of a rich bread dough with eggs, decorated with dough in the form of bones, and covered with sugar. It's delicious!

In Tequis, the streets are filled with vendors and tons of flowers for sale. It's a veritable feast for the eyes. Far from being morbid, it is as much a celebration of the dead as it is of the living. The connection is in a way never severed. In certain parts of the country music is played and people dance to honour those who have passed on. It is believed that the dead will want to hear all that happened to their families and loved ones in the past year. In cities people prepare an altar decorated with flowers, handicrafts, candles and sugar confections. Copal incense is burnt. A feast of delicious foods is consumed. Deceased loved ones are thus fully integrated into the family, never to be forgotten.

Personally, I am enchanted with the festivity and the spirit of the holiday. After all, when we carry love in our hearts for those who have passed on, don't we keep them alive in a way?

1 comment:

maria luz said...

It is one of the most beautiful of all Mexican customs. We were in Zihuatenejo 3 years ago during Muertos and it was a joy to behold. These people are very serious about their devotion and it represents a huge outpouring of love for those departed.


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