01 November, 2008

Día de Muertos

“Para el habitante de Nueva York, Paris o Londres, la muerte es palabra que jamás se pronuncia porque quema los labios.  El mexicano, en cambio, la frecuenta, la burla, la acaricia, duerme con ella, la festeja, es uno de sus juguetes favoritos y su  amor más permanente.  Cierto, en su actitud hay quizá tanto miedo como en la de los otros; mas al menos no se esconde ni la esconde; la contempla cara a cara con
 paciencia, desdén o ironía”.
To the people of New York, Paris, or London, "death" is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and most steadfast love. Of
 course, in his attitude perhaps there is as much fear as there is in one of the others; at least he does not hide it; he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain, or irony.
"The Labyrith of Solitude" Octavio Paz

The Aztecs had a celebration to honor the children who had past away.  As a belligerent tribe, they also had a day devoted to honor the warriors who had died in battle.  There was a day, also, to honor all other who had passed away.  These festivities took place sometime in the summer.  When the Spanish conquistadores came to Mexico, the priest that came with them thought that
 the way to make the locals learn and accept the religion was to mix the native religous believes with the Catholic dogma.  Places of worship were tore down and it is place churches and cathedrals built. So the tradition to remember the dead was fused and transformed to the modern day "Day of the Dead".  

November 1 is Día de Todos los Santos (All Souls Day) This is the day to remember children.
November 2 is Día de Muertos

Altars or oferings are set up at people's homes or at the cementery to honor the person who passed away.  There are few basic elements of an altar. The table is decorated with cut out of tissue paper. Cempasúchil flowers (a type of marygold) with their bright orange color adorn the altar as well as lit candles. The favorite dishes that the person liked are also brought to the altar as well as drinks: hot chocolate, tequila and water. There is usually a picture of the person
 that is being honored. There are also baked goods, such as the Bread of the Dead -a bread with dough bones. You will also see sugar skulls. Playing cards, cigarrettes, or toys are also placed on the altar. The Aztecs belived that life began once you were dead, and  on this day the souls of the 
dead rested in their pilmigrage of life. The food and drink, symbolically, gave them stregnt, the candles lit the way.  On this day the living and the dead
 share a day together.

Most cementeries open November 1 and do not close until November 2, they remain open for a wake. People go to the  cementery, clean the graves and set altars. At night, the cementery is lit up by the candles. People pray for the deseased, tell stories about them. Some even bring
 musical bands to play the favorite tunes of the deseased. 

The sugar skulls are sold by street vendors.  The vendors gladly write, with frosting, the name of your friends on the skulls. Then you can give the skull to your firends, kind of a sign of friendship, like a Valentince card.  

Many people have asked me why Mexicans do this and think this is a morbid idea. I know Mexicans honor their dead because it is a tradition that has been handed down to us from the Aztecs.  It is not morbid, there is nothing wrong to remember your dear relatives and have a special celebration for it. Part of the Mexican culture and this tradition is to remind us how fragile life is.  In a way, on these two days, Mexicans mock dead. 
If you want to learn more about the Día de Muertos visit:

1 comment:

brenda said...

En un Wal-Mart cerca de mi casa estan vendiendo unos DVDs de "tradiciones mexicanas" y hay uno de los dias de los muertos. Si quieres pasar alli me recuerdas. Tienen muchas peliculas y musica en espannol.