The history of Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead - "Dia de Muertos" in Spanish - is a festival of remembrance celebrated in Mexico on 1 and 2 November.
The celebration of the Day of the Dead – which culminates with a national holiday in Mexico on 2 November – is an integral part of the embracement of death that is particular to Mexican national identity.
The tradition reflects the belief that death is a natural part of the human experience, a continuum of birth, childhood, and growing up. The dead are not lost forever but instead continue to exist much as they did in their lives, and return to visit the living every year. Consequently, instead of being a time of sadness, the Day of the Dead is a time for remembering and rejoicing. The spirits of loved ones who have died are invited to visit the living as honored guests. Although the celebrations start on 28 October, the key days are 1 November, which is known as 'Día de los Angelitos' (Day of the Little Angels) and is dedicated to the souls of dead children; and 2 November, which is set aside for the souls of adults.
The festival originated centuries ago in Mexico. It combines Latin American customs with indigenous Aztec ritual and Catholicism, which was brought to the region by Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s. After conquering the Aztec Empire, taking over the area we now know as Mexico, they set about trying to convert the native population to Catholicism, for both religious and political reasons. Among the practices the Spanish introduced were All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, taking place on November 1 and 2 respectively. The Native Americans incorporated their own traditions for honoring the dead into these two days, resulting in the unique hybrid of the two that is Day of the Dead.
In recent years, Day of the Dead celebrations have spread from the United States across the world, including the UK.
While the holiday's observances include spending time at the gravesides of loved ones, making shrines to the dead, and displaying artistic representations of skulls and skeletons, the occasion is festive.
The dead are awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones. Their lives are celebrated with food, drink, parties, and activities they enjoyed in life. Altars (or ofrendas) are set up in homes, decorated in bright colors and laden with the favorite foods of the dead. Typically, photographs, representations of things they liked, and items representing the four elements: candles for fire, drinks for water, fruit for earth, and fluttering tissue-paper decorations for wind will be placed on the altar. Salt, which is considered the spice of life, is also commonly left at the altar. The dead slake their thirst after their long journey with the drinks left on the altar, and absorb the essence of the food, which will later be eaten by the living.
The streets near cemeteries are covered with decorations of papel picado (traditional Mexican cut paper), flowers, candy calaveras (skeletons and skulls).
By living alongside death in such an open, honest and authentic way, Mexicans have to learned to accept it in their lives.