This post and the photos come from Sara Molina, our Spanish teacher, who splits her time between Vermont and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Thanks, Sara, for introducing us to this wonderful and colorful cultural celebration of our ancestors!
Skulls, death, skeletons: these items often inspire fear, or at least negative feelings. But in Mexico, and many other countries that celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is quite the opposite. ‘Día de los Muertos’ is a colorful holiday of joy and festivities based around honoring the lives of loved ones who have died. This is a time to celebrate and remember these loved ones through parties, dinners, altars, and parades.
This celebration has a history of thousands of years, starting with a month-long holiday in the time of the Aztecs and then evolving to be celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 with the arrival of Catholicism. November 1 is generally for celebrating infants and children who have passed and November 2 is to honor adults. Offerings play a large role, where the deceased are honored with their favorite foods, drinks, pictures of them, and other colorful decorations. Celebrations are often held in cemeteries, at the graved of loved ones, with music, food, and drink. As opposed to the somber tone often felt at cemeteries in the U.S., the feeling is festive and happy at these Day of the Dead cemetery celebrations.
Skulls and skeletons are an integral part of the Day of the Dead. The Catrina is the main skeleton seen, she is elegantly dressed and was created in the early 20th century by an artist aiming to poke fun at the high society ladies of the time. Some of the Catrina creations are stunning, with elaborate face painting and gorgeous and colorful costumes. Another fun tradition that just began last year in Mexico City, was a Day of the Dead parade. This was modeled after the Day of the Dead parade in the recent James Bond movie, ‘Spectre’. The opening scene features an impressive parade in Mexico City, and some leaders in the city decided to make it a reality this Day of the Dead.
Feel like getting into the Day of the Dead Spirit? Create an altar or offering (ofrenda) for a loved one (pets too!) who has passed. Include flowers, their favorite foods or drinks, music, symbols of activities they enjoyed, pictures of them etc.
Or if cooking is more appealing, create the traditional Día de los Muertos dish: pan de muertos (bread of the dead). This is a basic sweet roll that is often molded into various shapes: angels, animals, or of course on this holiday – skeletons!
And if you’re a crafty person, try making a traditional decoration of this time: Papel Picado. This colorful paper is cut with patterns, and hung around the altar, and all over streets during this time.
Regardless of our level of celenration of the holiday, pausing for a moment to fondly remember loved ones no longer with us can bring a smile to our faces.
National Geographic site about Day of the Dead (good for general Day of the Dead info and activities. A clean and well organized site)
BBC documentary about Day of the Dead in Mexico (a 20ish minute documentary, one of the better ones I’ve seen about Day of the Dead)
Recipe for Pan de Muertos
Directions and Template for Papel Picado
Mexico City Day of the Dead parade video