Day of the Dead
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos, Día de los Difuntos or, simply, Día de Muertos in Spanish) is a Catholic celebration of the memory of deceased ancestors that is celebrated on November 1 (All Saints) and November 2 (All Souls).
This time is especially notable in Mexico where it is primarily viewed as a public Mexican holiday, and it is also celebrated in communities in the United States with large populations of Mexican-Americans, the Philippines and to a lesser extent elsewhere in some countries of Latin America. It is a public holiday in Brazil, and a large number of people celebrate it there typically by visiting cemeteries and churches, taking flowers, lighting candles, and praying.
In Mexico, despite the morbid subject matter, this holiday is celebrated joyfully, and though it occurs at the same time as Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls Day, the mood of The Day of the Dead is much lighter, with the emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, rather than fearing evil or malevolent spirits.
History of the Day of the Dead in Latin America
The origins of the celebration of The Day of the Dead in Latin America can be traced back to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, such as the Aztec, Maya, Purepecha, Nahual and Totonac.
Rituals celebrating the lives of dead ancestors had been performed by these Mesoamerican civilizations for at least 3,000 years. It was common practice to keep skulls as trophies and display them during rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.
The festival which was to become Día de Muertos fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, near the start of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the "Lady of the Dead". The festivities were dedicated to the celebration of children and the lives of dead relatives. The Aztec tradition included the making of bread in the shape of a person which is perhaps the origin of the pan de muerto.
When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in America in the 15th century they were appalled at the indigenous pagan practices, and in an attempt to convert the locals to Roman Catholicism moved the popular festival to the beginning of November to coincide with the Catholic All Saints (day in which saints are honored) and All Souls (day of observance and prayer for those who have died and those souls in purgatory) days. All Saints' Day is the day after Halloween, which was in turn based on the earlier pagan ritual of Samhain, the Celtic day and feast of the dead. The Spanish combined their custom of All Souls' Day with the similar Mesoamerican festival, creating the Día de lo Muertos, The Day of the Dead. This is an example of syncretism or the blending of a significant event from two different cultural traditions. Indigenous people of the Americas often would outwardly adopt the European rituals, while maintaining their original native beliefs.
Beliefs and customs
The souls of children are believed to return first on November 1, with adult spirits following on November 2.
Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods that will be offered to the dead. During the period of October 31 and November 2 families usually clean and decorate the graves. Wealthier families build altars in their homes, but most simply visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings. These include wreaths of an orange marigold (also referred to as Flor de Muerto, the "flower of the dead", in Spanish, or zempoalxochitl, (twenty-flower) in Nahuatl, a term that has been carried into modern Mexican Spanish as cempazúchil), which are thought to attract the souls of the dead toward the offerings; toys, brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels); and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods and beverages dedicated to the deceased as well as pillows and blankets. The ofrendsas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the deceased eat the spirit of the food, so even though they eat the food from the ofrendas after the festivity, they think it lacks nutritional value. The pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.
Some families do build altars or small shrines in their homes. These altars usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, flowers such as marigolds, and many, many candles. Traditionally, families may spend some time around the altar telling stories about the deceased relatives as well as spend time praying.
Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as a valuable part of the Mexican heritage.
Calavera de la Catrina by José Guadalupe PosadaThose gifted like to write "calaveras" – short poems mocking epitaphs of friends. This custom originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, "and all of us were dead", proceeding to "read" the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of José Guadalupe Posada. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.
Pan de muerto, traditionally eaten on the holidayA common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"). Also common are Sugar skulls, inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Other special foods for Día de Muertos includes pan de muerto (bread of the dead, a sweet egg bread made in many shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.
The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are in no way universal and are often different from town to town. For example, In a town called Patzcuaro on the Lago de Patzcuaro in Michoacan the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. If a child has died the godparents, in the first year after the child’s death, on November first, set a table in the home of the parents with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a Rosary (used to pray to the Virgin Mary) and candles. This is done in celebration of the child’s life and in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull shaped masks but others as well such as devil masks, in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride boats called Mariposas (Spanish for butterfly, because they have wings similar to their namesake) over to an island, Cuiseo, in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.
In some parts of the country, children in costumes roam the streets, asking passersby for a "calaverita", a small gift of money; they don't knock on people's doors.
In the Philippines, it is called Araw ng mga Patay (literally, Day of the Dead) or Undas and has more of a "family reunion" atmosphere. It is seen as an opportunity to be with the departed and is done in a somewhat more solemn way. Tombs are cleaned or repainted, candles are lit, and flowers are offered. Since its supposed to be about spending time with dead relatives, families usually camp in cemeteries – with some choosing to spend a night or two near their relatives' tombs. Playing card games, eating, drinking, singing, and dancing are common activities inside the cemetery, apparently to cope with boredom. It is considered a very important holiday by many Filipinos (next in importance to Christmas and Holy Week), and additional days are normally given as special non-working holidays (only November 1 is a regular holiday).
In the Chinese tradition, the seventh month in the Chinese calendar is called the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits come out from the lower world to visit earth.