of the Dead,
a Mexican Tradition
than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is
now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed
to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been
practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the Spaniards would try
unsuccessfully to eradicate. A ritual known today as Dํa
de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives
viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death,
they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did
they become truly awake.
the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. They
perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan. In
their attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried
to kill the ritual.
like the old Aztec spirits, the ritual refused to die. To make
the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided
with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2), which is
when it is celebrated today. Previously it fell on the ninth
month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of
August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities
were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The goddess, known
as "Lady of the Dead," was believed to have died at birth.
Day of the Dead is a time for the dead to return home and visit
loved ones, feast on their favorite foods and listen to their
the homes, family members honor their deceased with ofrendas
or offerings, which may consist of skulls, photographs, bread, other
foods, flowers, toys, and other symbolic offerings.
skulls made with the names of the dead person on the forehead, are
eaten by a relative or friend. The Aztecs kept skulls as
trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used
to symbolize death and rebirth.
of saints of particular importance to the family sit on the altar
along with photos of the deceased relatives the family is waiting
are always present on the altars. Families light candles on
the altars and on the gravesite of the deceased.
of the Dead represent the souls of the dead. The essence or
soul of the bread is consumed by the dead when they visit their
loved ones. Most of the bread loaves are shaped as ovals (said
to be the shape of ones soul), though each loaf may vary with
different ingredients and decorations. In some parts of
Mexico, the bread may be shaped as humans or animals.
which symbolize the brief life of man, are used as an offering on
the altars. Yellow marigolds, known as "the flower of the
dead," and other fragrant flowers are used to communicate to
the spirits the richness of the offering. Sometimes paths of
marigold petals are created by families to aid the souls in finding
their way home.
Mexico, death is something to be celebrated. It is not a
morbid occasion, but rather a festive time.