Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day of the Dead

Within the Mexican culture, there are extensive beliefs in ghosts. These beliefs are based upon Mexico’s diverse past. 

Many of the ancient Maya and Aztec beliefs survived and evolved, along with the beliefs introduced by the Spanish colonists that came later. The modern “Day of the Dead” observance includes elements from both these pre-Colombian beliefs, and Christian elements. Mexican literature and films include many stories of ghosts interacting with the living.

The Day of the Dead, in Spanish, El Dia de los Muetos, is a holiday celebrated in Mexico, as well as by Hispanics living in the United States and Canada.

Marigold Parade
The South Valley community in my hometown, Albuquerque, New Mexico, celebrates Dia de los Muetos. One highlight is a beautiful Marigold Parade and Festival. I must mention that everyone in our community participates, not just Americans of Mexican heritage.

Families remember their deceased loved ones and honor them by building ofrendas—altars—where sugar skulls are placed, along with offerings of pan de muertos. 

Sugar Skulls
Sugar skulls are traditional Mexican folk art used to decorate, they are also given out during the festivities. Pan de muerto is a lightly sweetened bread that is placed upon the altars. Some of the dough is formed into bone-like shapes to decorate the top of the loaves.

These celebrations allow everyone to honor their dead by offering remembrances. Included in this celebration are blessings, poetry, and traditional foods. There is also an art market and a costume contest.

Click to enlarge
The traditional celebration focuses upon family and friends, gathering to remember family members who have died. Family members visit the graves of their loved ones, where people communicate with the souls of the departed-- private altars are often built containing the deceased' favorite foods and beverages. 

Photos and other memorabilia are placed upon this altar. 

Because the Day of the Dead occurs near Halloween, traditionally November 1st and 2nd causes some confusion, these two events have little in common. This ritual is not scary or gruesome. It is a beautiful ritual in which Mexicans remember their loved ones.

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