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Day Of The Dead: A Mexican Tradition - Remembering Loved Ones And Celebrating Life

The Day of the Dead or El Dia de los Muertos may sound macabre or appear morbid to many Americans, but in Mexico, it is a festive time when families remember loved ones now gone and also a way to celebrate the continuation of life. It has complex historical roots dating back to pre Hispanic times.

Celebrations of today coincide with All Souls Day on the liturgical calendar and Halloween on the folk calendar. However, the original celebration can be traced to native traditions of the Aztecs. In the Aztec calendar, this tradition took place near the end of the Gregorian month of July and early August. Spanish priests later moved the observance to coincide with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve or Dia de Todos Santos. Thus, Mexicans now celebrate the Day of the Dead during the
first two days of November, rather than at the beginning of summer.

Generally speaking, activities on this day may include adorning the graves of departed family members with marigolds, picnicking at the gravesite, singing and dancing with community members, and sharing memories of loved ones. Many believe that the souls of the dead return during the festivities.

The meals are extensive and prepared during the days leading up to the celebration. Variations abound depending on the region of Mexico and the preferences of the departed. Tamales, empanadas, mole and a special bread known as pan de muerto are common dishes. Cookies and candies in the shape of skulls and skeletons are also typical. Offerings of salt and water are included as well. They are believed to be symbols of continuing life.

Again, depending on the part of Mexico you are in, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in varying ways. It can be an important cultural event in some communities, while it may be a more focused religious observance with actual worship of the dead in other communities. In larger cities, it may be a Mexican holiday simply observed through social gatherings with special foods and music. In the United States, many larger cities are holding observances of their own to celebrate this unique day as well.

Much of the folk art seen during this time of year, originated as offerings to the souls of the departed when placed on altars and grave markers. However, during the 19th century, Jose Guadalupe Posada used skeletons to satirize Mexican society in editorial cartoons. One example, catrina was an upper class lady of the turn-of-the-century and was always depicted in her broad-brimmed hat. Works such as these inspired many folk artists to continue the tradition of creating whimsical pieces to make light of the inevitable, and catrina is now a classic figure in Mexican folk art.

To view catrina and other Mexican folk art, log onto www.sunriseimports.net

Submitted by:

Sheila Hull-Summers

Sheila Hull-Summers is a former educator and the owner of Sunrise Imports, an e-commerce site specializing in Mexican folk art and other unique handcrafted items from Latin America and the U.S.


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