Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and acknowledged around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. In 2008 the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The holiday is sometimes called Día de los Muertos in Anglophone countries, a back-translation of its original name, Día de Muertos. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a public holiday. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer. It was moved to October 31, November 1 and November 2 to coincide with theWestern Christian triduum of Allhallowtide: All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves.
Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztecfestival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The holiday has spread throughout the world, being absorbed within other deep traditions for honoring the dead. It happens to be a holiday that has become a national symbol and as such is taught (for educational purposes) in the nation’s schools, but there are families who are more inclined to celebrate a traditional “All Saints’ Day” associated with the Catholic Church.
Originally, the Day of the Dead as such was not celebrated in northern Mexico, where it was even unknown until the 20th century; before that the people and the church rejected it in northeastern Mexico because they perceived the day was a result of syncretizingpagan elements with Catholic Christianity. They held the traditional ‘All Saints’ Day‘ in the same way as other Christians in the world. This is due to the limited or nonexistent Mesoamerican influence in this region, and the relatively few indigenous inhabitants from the regions of Southern Mexico. In the early 21st century in northern Mexico, Día de Muertos is observed because the Mexican government made it a national holiday by its educational policies from the 1960s and has tried to use it as a unifying national tradition in the north of the country.
The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is similar to other observances, including the Spanish tradition in which festivals and parades are frequently held and people often gather at cemeteries and pray for their deceased loved ones at the end of the day.
Check out this week’s Guadalajara Reporter (October 31st – November 6th, 2015) on pages 8 and 9 for Day of the Dead festivities in Ajijic, Lake Chapala.