People swarm by in ornate costumes, their white are faces painted lavishly as skeletons, they march slowly holding candles, celebrating in the same breathe their joy for life and their respect for death. It’s Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, a Mexican celebration to honor the lives of past friends and family members.
Like most things Mexican, the celebration takes on a lively and colorful tone. Ornate alters are created for everyone honored, and loved items of the person are placed upon them, from a favorite stuffed animal, a favorite food, to a favorite tequila. Each participating culture both throughout Mexico and beyond has made the holiday its own, however the bright marigold flowers and decorated candy skulls have become synonymous symbols of the holiday world-wide.
My favorite part of the holiday is that rather than mourning the dead’s lives, they are celebrated in a purposefully raucous way, in the belief the more extravagant and flamboyant the party is the higher the chance the dead will hear of it and come to visit.
Originally the holiday was celebrated in August by the Aztecs. When the Spanish came over from Europe they thought the holiday was sacrilegious, mocked the dead, and tried to eradicate it. After failing over and over they compromised and moved the holiday to coincide with the Catholic All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on November 1 and 2, (right after Halloween) where it is still celebrated today.
Day of the Dead is also celebrated in many other parts of the world. Guatemala’s celebration, for example, is unique because of the giant kites they fly. In the United States it is celebrated in Texas, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and everywhere else there is Mexican influence. In San Francisco it has become a giant street party and the city’s major museums feature displays and alters. The Philippines have turned it into an excuse for a family reunion. And in historically Roman-Catholic Europe, some of its traditions have merged with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, like the offering of food and beverage to grave sites.
There are parties, and then there are celebrations for a purpose. This holiday speaks to me because it reminds us that we are alive and we should embrace every moment. Plus, anyone who know me knows that I will take any excuse to dress up and eat candy. Life and death it seems are just two kinds of the same coin, so enjoy every moment, but don’t forget to honor those who cannot anymore.
Have any of you been lucky enough to be part of a Dia de los Muertos or funeral in Mexico or another country? I’m curious… leave me a comment below!Tweet