November 2nd is Dia de los Muertos or The Day of the Dead in Mexican households. It is a ritual created within the Aztec culture over 3,000 years ago. Spanish conquerors attempted to wipe it out without success, other than moving it from August to November 2nd, All Souls Day. In the beginning years, the day was presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as "Lady of the Dead."
In different parts of Mexico and in Mexican communities in the US, the festivities honoring the dead will differ, but they are all centralized on honoring those who have gone before us in a very loving and immediate way. Families create altars in their homes with flowers (often marigolds), pictures of the dead, candles, pictures of the Virgin Mary, palm fronds, and the departed's favorite foods and beverages. The image of the skull can be found on the altars in dolls, cookies and baked goods and especially in skulls made of sugar with the name of the dead on the forehead. Later, a member of the family of each skull-represented person will eat the skull.
Ehow even features a set of instructions for how to make your own Day of the Dead altar.
For the days preceding the event, the graves of loved ones are cleaned and decorated. Included are many of the same sort of items found at the altars, with gifts for them as well -- a toy for a dead child, a bottle of tequila for a dead adult. The family will spend the night at the graveyard, singing, eating, reciting poems written as eulogies, laughing, sharing memories of the loved one.
This is definitely a time of celebration, and a time where people feel very connected to their ancestors, and believe that they are visiting the living on the Day of the Dead.
In reading about the Day of the Dead I felt some spiritual envy. How purely lovely it would be for us all to remember our ancestors with such joy and colorful traditions. In Mexican Catholicism, Death and Life are not separate, not enemies of each other, but connected in an ongoing way.
Another fun typical element are the Calaveras, short rhyming poems in “memory” of a person as if they were already deceased. Calaveras about public figures and politicians are often published in newspapers at this time to satirize or criticize them. More often, though, Mexicans come up with these playful rhymes to tease their friends or family members.
MEXonline.com describes the graveside ritual:
First the graves and altars are prepared by the entire family, whose members bring the departed's favorite food and drink. Candles are lit, the ancient incense copal is burned, prayers and chants for the dead are intoned and then drinks and food are consumed in a party/picnic-like atmosphere. At 6:00 pm, the bells begin to ring (every 30 seconds), summoning the dead. They ring throughout the night. At sunrise, the ringing stops and those relatives who have kept the night-long vigil, go home.
I think I will not spend the night at my ancestors' grave, but I may pack a small lunch to eat there on the Day of the Dead. I'll make something my parents loved to eat, and will say a prayer or two as I remember them fondly and with joy. I wonder where to find marigolds in November...
Have any of you been a part of a Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration?
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool
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