Halloween, an excuse to eat excessive amounts of sweets and douse yourself in gallons of fake blood. Well, that’s how the majority of the UK seem to celebrate the remembrance of the dead, anyway. But to be honest, all that nonsense doesn’t really interest me as much as the Mexican celebrations of Day of The Dead or “Día de los Muertos”.
Día de los Muertos is a holiday for honouring and remembering those who have parted; it is a joyful, spirited celebration. The Day of the Dead is Mexico‘s most significant holiday, which means they invest an abundance of time and money into it, far more than any other holiday.
2nd November is the official date for the Day of the Dead although it’s celebrated between 31st October and 2nd November, which is in connection with All Hallows’ Eve, Hallowmas and All Souls’ Day. But preparations (and some festivities) commonly start earlier than that. Mexicans believe that the gates of heaven open at midnight on 31st October 31st, 1st November is the day for honouring deceased children and infants, and 2nd November is the day for honouring deceased adults.
The days leading up to Día de los Muertos consists of families visiting the gravesite of their loved ones and pulling weeds, removing debris and decorating. Those who can’t visit their loved ones’ graves because they live abroad usually set-up altars in their homes, and local communities usually host a mixture of events.
Candles, flowers and the favourite dishes of the loved ones are placed on the altar. Drinks are placed inside the altar to quench the thirst of the dead after their lengthy journey back home. In several villages, it’s traditional to offer alcoholic beverages. They sound like my kind of people! Salt is considered the spice of life and is also left at the altar. The welcoming aromas of marigolds and burning copal (which is a tree resin), thought to be most-loved by the spirits of the dead, fill the air.
The skull (“calacas” in Spanish), which is a common symbol of the holiday, is typically used for decoration and can come in the form of an ornament, mask or sugar snack known as sugar skulls. Sugar skulls have the names of the deceased on the forehead and are eaten by a relative or friend. The creation of sugar figures is a European tradition, which can be traced back to Palermo, Italy, where figurines were made out of sugar as religious decorations. Spanish Catholic beliefs began to mix with native Mesoamerican beliefs and the Mexicans started including sugar skulls as part of their Día de los Muertos festivities. As the years pass, sugar skull designs have become increasingly colourful and vibrant.