Day of the Dead Festivities
Each year on November 1st and November 2nd there are unique celebrations that will take place in Mexico. These celebrations are called the Day of the Dead festivities. The Day of the Dead originates from the 16th century and is a collaboration of Mesoamerican and European traditions.
In the pre-Hispanic Aztec religion, ceremonies would be held during the Aztec summer under the direction of goddess Mictecacihuatl. These celebrations focused on celebrating dead ancestors, children, and fallen warriors. The Aztecs would bring offerings of food to altars in honor of the dead and would also place small clay images at the altars that were supposed to represent those who had passed.
In the European tradition, the Spanish brought the Christian Holiday of All Soul’s Day. This was a Roman Catholic holy day that celebrated the dead and baptized Christians who were thought to be in purgatory. Spanish priests recognized the correlation between the Aztec and Christian celebrations so they moved the Aztec festival from summer to fall.
Celebrations consist of families traveling to relatives’ gravesites to pay homage. They decorate the gravesite with flowers and candles and hold a picnic where they socialize amongst other family members and the community. Stories about relatives that have passed will be exchanged amongst everyone. For the community members, it is a way of celebrating ancestors and the role that their ancestors played in the community.
There is typically an exchange of gifts amongst friends and family members which can consist of sugar skeletons or other items with death iconography. A gifted Skelton skull that bares ones name is more prized to the receiver. In the case of pan de muerto, when the person who receives the gift takes a bite out of the skull, they symbolically “take a bite of death” and protects themselves against the fear of death.
All in all, these celebrations represent and recognize the cycle of life and death that is part of human existence. Not only are they a celebration of those who have passed but also a way of celebrating the continuity of life and life in the community.
Submitted by Kate Schmitt
Cortez, Constance. “History of Day of the Dead.” Dia De Los Muertos [Day of the Dead]. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.<http://www.dayofthedeadsf.org/history.html>.