El Día de Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a Mexican tradition. This tradition originated from the pre-Hispanic era, when they thought that death was only the beginning of the journey to Mictlan. Mictlan translates to “place of the dead” and is the underworld of Aztec mythology. It is also known as « Our final home », where the dead would meet the god Mictlantecuhtli and the goddess Mictecacihuatl, rulers of the afterlife.
The main days of celebration are the 1st and 2nd of November. During these evenings, it is believed that the spirits of our ancestors are permitted by the gods to visit us in the land of the living. We have several traditions to prepare for this special family reunion.
Las ofrendas de día de muertos
Las ofrendas de día de muertos (Day of the Dead offerings) are altars. They were dedicated to different gods and spirits. A typical ofrenda may be made of the following elements:
· Photographs of the beloved dead. Portraits of people who are no longer with us.
· The smoke given off by the copal (aromatic resins as ceremonial burned incense) is the olfactory guide for our dead to come to us.
· Candles. These represent fire and light. They serve to light the path for the returning souls.
· Favorite drinks of the deceased loved ones.
· Papel picado are paper decorations that depict the joy of the encounter of the dead, meaning that the paper is a kind of communicative way between life and death.
· Calaveritas. In ancient times, real skulls were used. Later they were replaced with skulls made of sugar, chocolate or amaranto. Each skull represents a deceased person.
· Cempasúchil flower. This fluffy-looking flower is also known as « twenty-petaled flower ». They are mainly used to decorate or create paths to guide the souls of our ancestors.
Pan de muerto Origin & Meaning
Pan de muerto is a sugar-coated bread that represents the skeleton of the deceased. They are decorated on top with a cross and center knob, crossbones and a skull. These bones also symbolize the four cardinal directions of the universe.
In 1910, José Guadalupe Posada drew La Catrina. It became a popular depiction of Mictecacihuatl, as a reminder to enjoy life and embrace mortality. Mexicans will often paint their faces as La Catrina as part of the celebration. They also will write and recite little poems called Calaveritas Literarias. Just like La Catrina, they portray death in a playful and humorous way.
Even though Halloween and Día de Muertos overlap, they are distinct and celebrated differently. Dia de Muertos is a time to reflect on mortality, to gather with family and to honor our ancestors. It has ancient roots in Mexican culture and mythology linking the past to the present. In celebrating our dead, we can learn to enjoy ourselves as the living.
By Inna Zwicker, 1-75.