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The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that starts on October 31st and ends on November 2nd. I have not personally experienced this cultural event but, I have a friend who is Mexican and travels to Mexico every year for this celebration. When she told me about the Day of the Dead, I researched videos online and was able to get a glimpse of the festival.
The Day of the Dead which is also called “Día de los Muertos”, which originated from the ancient traditions of the pre-Columbian cultures. These rituals would celebrate the death of ancestors that dates back from 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Everything was dedicated to the goddess “Lady of the Dead” who in modern day is named “La Calavera Catrina”. In the late 20th century, November 1st would honor deceased children and infants called Día de los Innocents (Day of the Innocents) and Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). Meanwhile, on November 2nd, the adults who are deceased would be honored. This day is called Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead).
How it works
According to (Day, 2003), “on October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1st is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; Muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.”
Individuals would go to cemeteries to be with those who have passed and build private alters with the loved one’s favorite food and drinks, as well as pictures and memorabilia. This would encourage the souls to hear the prayers of the living. Throughout the three-day period, the families would clean and decorate the grave sites. Toys would be brought to the deceased children’s graves and alcohol would be brought to the adults.
During the festivities, food is eaten by the living and given to the spirits. Tamales are on of the most common dishes prepared. The main alcoholic beverage that would be drank during the festival is pulque, which is also called agave wine. It’s fermented sap from the agave plant, with the color of milk and a sour yeast-like taste, (Pulque, 2018). Also, Jamaican iced tea is popular. The main symbols that resemble this day are skeletons and skulls.
After watching several videos on YouTube, there is a parade that goes in the middle of the Mexican cities. People would dress up as the dead and would dance down the round. Different colors of face paint would cover their faces and rag and torn clothing to depict the dead. Some are in fancy clothes portraying as enjoying life.
The Day of the Dead is also like China’s Tomb Sweeping Day. Unlike the holiday in Mexico, China celebrates their holiday in April. It falls on the first day of fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar which makes it the 15th day of the Spring Equinox (April 4th or 5th). Tomb Sweeping Day is also called “Qingming or Ching Ming Festival”, (Qingming Festival, 2018). During this time, the Chinese people would visit the grave sites to sweep the tombstones. For over 5,000 years, all levels of these people from royal to peasantry would gather together to remember those who have passed.
Rituals would be performed to honor those who died. Those of all ages would kneel to offer prayers at the tombstones of the ancestors, offering burning incense sticks and silver leafed paper, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks memorabilia of the ancestors just like they do in Mexico. Depending on the type of religion, some would pray to a higher deity to honor their ancestors while many others would pray directly to their ancestral spirits. Pomegranate and willow branches are popular religious symbols that symbolize purity. An example of how these two events differ, is that the Qingming festival is a time when couples traditionally start courting. Also, the act of burning spirit money or “hell money”. Hell money is a form of joss paper printed to resemble legal tender bank notes. This paper has no official form of currency since the sole purpose is to be offered as burnt offerings to deceased individuals, (Hell money, 2018).
This cultural event has been influenced by other cultures including the Aztec traditions honoring the dead. Majority of the Latin American countries were Catholics, while northern America was Protestant. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are mostly practiced by Catholic religion which originated by the Spanish and French nations.
The Day of the Dead has influenced Pop Culture. Hollywood movies, zombie shows, Halloween and politics have been a huge influence on this holiday, (Stevenson, 2016). For example, Mexico City was the background in the James Bond movie “Spectre”. In the background, you can see the city celebrating the Day of the Dead with a parade and people in skeleton outfits and floats. Another example is the children’s short film “Día de los Muertos”. This three-minute film shows a young girl placing flowers on the grave of her mother and gets pulled into the underworld of friendly skeletons. She gets hands on of the true meaning behind the holiday which also teaches us what the holiday really means, (Vargas, 2015).
The holiday is recognized in other Latin American countries including Brazil, Belize, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. All countries have similar celebrations but, also with some minor differences. For example, in Belize, Day of the Dead is practiced by the Yucatec Maya ethnicity. The celebration is known as “food for the souls”. Altars are made and decorated with food, drinks, candies, and candles. Where as in Bolivia, this holiday is called Día de las Natitas (Day of the Skulls) on May 5th. In pre-Columbian times, the Andeans had a tradition of sharing a day with the bones of their ancestors on the third year after their family member was buried. Today, those families keep the skulls for these rituals. On November 9th, the families would crown the skulls with fresh flowers and different garments just to make offerings of cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol and other items to thank the dead for that year’s protection. But, in Peru, people only visit the cemetery and bring flowers to decorate the graves of dead relatives and even sometimes play music for them. In the United States, states such as Texas and Arizona typically do the most traditional form of this holiday. The Hispanic-Americans still wear masks, carry signs, and wear skeleton costumes during the celebrations.
In Conclusion, the Day of the Dead is widely celebrated all over the world. Some countries share the same way they celebrate this holiday and other countries such as China and other Asian countries celebrate their holiday at a different time of the year.
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