So, what exactly is Los Dias de Los Muertos?
Around this time of year, those people that live or are visiting Mexico, will find themselves running across brightly ornamented altars in many of the town plazas. But what do they mean? The celebration on November 2nd is called Los Dias de Los Muertos, and it’s not a sad event, but rather a holiday celebrated with flowers, art and candles.
The question about Dia de Los Muertos has been asked enough times, I wanted to write up something about it so the next time someone asked, I’d have something intelligent to say. The celebrations actually start earlier than the actual Dia de Los Muertos, on October 31, which has been designated to the memory of souls that were killed or died of unnatural causes. On 1st day of November, the souls of children are honored as “Dia de Los Angelitos” and special designs are made for the altars using the color white on flowers and candles. November 2nd, is the celebration of the adult souls. Some businesses, Government offices, and schools are closed down for this day, which is celebrated with a blend of art, religion, life, death, sadness and humor in the form of brightly painted altars, decorated with flowers, candles and a cleaning of the graves and grave yards.
The history behind this uniquely Mexican celebration is as deep and complicated as you would expect from a country that pre-dates the arrival of the Europeans by thousands of years. When the Spaniards first arrived in the early 1500’s, the indigenous people celebrated the fall harvest, the new year and the dead with a two month long celebration. For the Aztecs, the Lady of the Dead, Mictecacihatl, was a symbol of this ceremony and was celebrated with offerings of personal goods, fires, incense, flowers and food. The Catholic zealotry of Spain did their best to turn this into a more suitably tragic and solemn day in honor of their Saints for the All Saints Day that were already being celebrated around this time, November 1. The locals weren’t able to fully embrace the priests ideas, and the merge between the celebrations of All Saints Day, and their traditional fall festival brought the colorful celebrations of flowers, candles and the joy of Los Dias de Los Muertos.
Mexicans hold a more bright view of death than their northern neighbors. When family members grow old, they are brought into the house, and lovingly taken care of. The idea of putting a parent or loved one into a nursing home would be greatly scorned upon. That same idea of cherishing your elders is conveyed with the passing of a loved one, with family members celebrating that life with photographs, candles, and songs. Los Dias de Los Muertos is a remembrance of past loved ones, friends or family, and that life is honored with joy, not sorrow.
Ahh, such a special way to look at the passing on of life. What will you do to celebrate the season, or a loved one? Tell us, we’d love to hear.