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Thursday, November 27, 2014 (read 652 times)
The Day of the Dead in Mexicoby Lauris
Every year in Mexico, the first days of November are filled with joy, vivid color and festive images in the form of deliciously clothed skeletons, sugar skulls and alters that commemorate and celebrate the lives of those no longer with us.
The seemingly contradictory notion of a joyful celebration of death often bewilders foreign visitors. To understand it all, even if just on a surface level, we have to dig into the history of Mexico.
Ceremonies celebrating deceased relatives have been held all over Mesoamerica for 3,000 years, and pre-Colombian cultures had a number of places to which people headed after death. These places included Tlalocán, for those whose death was caused by circumstances related to water (in the kingdom of Tláloc); instead of being cremated these people were buried in the hopes that they would germinate. The Omeyocán received those who died in combat, the highest honor possible; these would return to the world four years later as colorful birds displaying beautiful plumage. Mictlán was the home of people who had died natural deaths and Chichihuacuanuhco was the heaven for children, where trees kept them fed with milk.
This rich cultural heritage blended into a unique fusion after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, when these ancestral celebrations were associated with All Saints Day, which explains why the Day of the Dead is observed the first few days of November. In the words of Octavio Paz, from his fundamental work El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude): “for the ancient Mexicans, the opposition between death and life was not so absolute as it is for us. Life continued into death and vice versa […] Life, death and resurrection were states of a cosmic process that insatiably repeated itself.”
People all over Mexico celebrate the event with pan de muerto (bread of the dead), alters, sugar skulls and by visiting and decorating cemeteries. These festivities commemorate the vivid memory of departed family members and break from the fear surrounding death seen in many cultures, transforming it instead into a joyous occasion intrinsically woven into the fabric of Mexican culture.
This is such an important Mexican celebration, inside and outside the country’s borders, that in 2003 UNESCO accredited it as a Masterpiece of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in the hopes of preserving the tradition as the commercialized influence of Halloween continues arriving from the north.
Keywords: the day of the dead, holidays in mexico, mexico events