Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Charms of Mexico: Episode Two - Day of the Dead

Hello, lovely readers!

If you watched the movie from Pixar Coco that came out last year (2017), you are probably  familiar with the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead. If you watched The Book of Life, that came out in 2014, then again, you're also probably familiar with the tradition. Or maybe "A Night to Remember" episode of season one in Elena of Avalor? Or maybe you have been to Disneyland Resort's Frontierland for their annual "Halloween Time" festivities, where they celebrate the tradition of Día de los Muertos... These are only a few examples of where we have seen said tradition being showcased recently. It is no wonder, the UNSECO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) inscribed the tradition in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in the year 2008.

Cempasúchil is the flower associated with this holiday.

But what is the wonder of this ancient tradition? Well, first, let's take a look at its history.

Day of the Dead celebrations of honoring ancestors in Mexico date back to pre-Columbian times, perhaps a good 2,500 to 3000 years ago! After the conquest of Spain in Mexico, where the Catholic Church became relevant, the tradition migrated from being held in the summer to being celebrated around Oct. 31- Nov. 1st to the 2nd, to synchronize it with the Church's celebration of All Saints Day. Before the Church accepted this indigenous celebration, however, it was banned, especially in the northern states of the country, as they related it with the pagan holiday Samhain, also a celebration and honoring of ancestors that had passed into the spirit realm. But, as an ironic side note, All Saints Day, also All Hallows Day, which honors all saints in the history of the Church on November 1st, is said to have been adapted from the Celtic/Pagan tradition of Samhain in the British Isles. (Have you ever wondered where the name Halloween comes from?... October 31st is All Hallows Eve... Something to ponder).

Local town decorations.

By the late 20th century, most regions of Mexico practiced celebrations to honor dead children and infants on November 1 , referred to as Día de los Inocentes, "Day of the Innocents", and to honor deceased adults on November 2. The tradition is long living today!

How is it celebrated?

Ofrenda (altar) to famous Mexican comedian, "Cantinflas".

A lot of people head to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their departed, placing photos, their favorite foods and beverages and memorabilia to encourage the visit of their souls and hear their dedicated prayers and thoughts about them or to them.

There are also people that build an ofrenda, an altar, in their homes. These altars can include anything from the departed's photo, their favorite foods and beverages, to religious artifacts such as crosses or Virgin Mary figurines, etc. A common item of decoration not only on the altars but on the streets of Mexican towns during this time is papel picado, decorative thin pieces of colorful paper cut into beautiful and elaborate designs that include floral and skeleton themes. Another common item is the cempasúchil, marigold flower, a cute and round orange/yellow colored flower. Another popular item is the alfeñiques, a confection made from sugar paste, molded into skulls of all sizes, from large to tiny, with different colorful decorations all over it to individual personality of the dead.  

Ofrenda to Pedro Infante, famous singer of the Mexican Golden Cinema age. 

Ofrenda to famous revolutionary, Pancho Villa.

Ofrenda to Frida Kahlo

Another very popular item during this time is La Calavera Catrina, which can be translated as The Elegant Skull. Originally etched by the famous political illustrator, José Guadalupe Posada, to portray natives that were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic statuses and traditions during pre-revolutionary times. Today, La Catrina, is a famously adopted icon for the Day of the Dead. It can be portrayed as female in La Catrina, or also male, as El Catrín. The female version is undeniably much more famous, however. We see her in paintings, illustrations, figurines of all sizes, as well as in people painting their faces white with black around the eyes to depict the hollowness of a skull, but with the peculiar Catrina characteristic of designs in color in the face as well as in clothing choices.

Local woman characterized as a Catrina. 

Little girl dresses as a Catrina.

What about food?

Food is an important aspect of this tradition. As I explained above, food is offered to the departed in the form of their favorite items! How delightful is that? But the living also indulge in food and drinks. A very popular item you see everywhere during this time is Pan de Muerto, a type of bread shaped like a bun, topped with sugar, it is soft and sweet when eaten. Drinks are also important. People often drink the favorite drink of their loved departed. On the streets and during the celebration, other common foods are also enjoyed, such as tamales, mole and pulque, an alcoholic drink made from fermented maguey (agave plant).

Pan de Muerto

By now, you probably have observed a common theme in this celebration, and that is of color! Color everywhere, colorful everything. The beauty of the Day of the Dead doesn't only come from honoring and remembering those loved family members that have parted, but also in celebrating life! In viewing death as an imminent part of life, because without it, there couldn't be life, while also enjoying life as it is, with it's simple pleasures, its black and white and also its colorfulness!

Can I celebrate this holiday without being Mexican?

Um, hello! Of course! Yes! Please do!
In fact, many people around the world today are starting to celebrate. Really, any day is a perfect day to honor and remember our loved ones that are finally resting in peace. But, if you happen to feel a desire to join a beautiful holiday that is being celebrated more and more each year, than I encourage you that next year, you designate a little (or huge!) corner of your home, take out a framed (or not framed!) picture of one (or several) of your loved ones that have gone, add items you know they loved or enjoyed, maybe light a stick of incense, place a cross if you are of the Christian faith, or a Buddha if you're a Buddhist, or perhaps a David's Star if you're Jewish, a Pentacle if you're a Wiccan, etc. You get my point. The beauty in this tradition is that you're celebrating, honoring and remembering your loved ones, so you're free to decorate your altar as you wish and feel will be more honorable to your loved one. And then take the day to do so! Or even just a moment, when you sit or stand in stillness and remember that person you greatly miss and send them vibrations of love to whatever realm their energy and/or spirit has transcend into.

Ofrenda to writer Moby Dick

Ceiling decoration.

Local streets in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. 

Tlaquepaque, Jalisco

This is one of the many charms of Mexico I wanted to share with readers. This pictures were taken in the folkloric town of Tlaquepaque in the state of Jalisco. A beautiful town that deserves, and will get, a post on its own. I hope you enjoyed them and also enjoyed learning a little bit of the history and tradition of the wonderful Mexican celebration of the Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead.

*All images (except Pan de Muerto) were produced and originated for this blog exclusively and protected by copyright.
*Pan de Muerto image courtesy of www.wideopeneats.com.