The strangest and most attractive festival in Mexico, the celebration of the Day of the Dead

The celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which has a scary name, but is a celebration full of colors and joy. On this day, people prepare food, flowers and candles in memory of their lost relatives. They decorate an altar in their memory and then celebrate this day with music, singing and dancing. Because the dead return home on this day to be with the family. This day, which is a traditional issue, has become one of Mexico tourist attractions. if you want to know more about this celebration, stay with us until the end of the article.

The origin of the Day of the Dead celebration

This festival is very old and its roots go back hundreds and maybe thousands of years ago. According to the documents today, we know that the celebration of the Day of the Dead was held by the pre-Columbian civilizations (the era before the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus), especially the Aztecs, Mayans and Tutunacs.

The Aztecs, who are the native Indians of Mexico, celebrated a full month and, according to their beliefs, respected the lady of death named Mictecacihuatl. Today, although people’s beliefs have changed, some elements of these customs still remain. In 1913, the famous artist Jose Gudolf Posada painted a picture of La Calavera Caterina, and since then, the image of Caterina has been used as an unofficial symbol of the Day of the Dead celebration.

Of course, the celebration of the Day of the Dead should not be confused with the celebration of Halloween. Native Mexican Indians or the Aztecs celebrated the Day of the Dead in August. However, when the Spanish colonized Mexico, they changed this custom slightly and made it compatible with the Christian festival of All Hallows. During the celebration of the Day of the Dead, many women make up their faces like the image of the Lady of Death and come to the streets. It is even interesting to know that every year records are set for the highest number of Katrinas in one place.

Special customs of the Day of the Dead celebration

The festival of the dead or Día de Muertos is a very old festival and its roots go back hundreds and maybe thousands of years ago. According to the documents today, we know that the celebration of the Day of the Dead was held by the pre-Columbian civilizations (the era before the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus), especially the Aztecs, Mayans and Tutunacs.

The Aztecs, who are the native Indians of Mexico, celebrated a full month and, according to their beliefs, respected the lady of death named Mictecacihuatl. Today, although people’s beliefs have changed, some elements of these customs still remain. In 1913, the famous artist Jose Gudolf Posada painted a picture of La Calavera Caterina, and since then, the image of Caterina has been used as an unofficial symbol of the Day of the Dead celebration.

Of course, the celebration of the Day of the Dead should not be confused with the celebration of Halloween. Native Mexican Indians or the Aztecs celebrated the Day of the Dead in August. However, when the Spanish colonized Mexico, they changed this custom slightly and made it compatible with the Christian festival of All Hallows. During the celebration of the Day of the Dead, many women make up their faces like the image of the Lady of Death and come to the streets. It is even interesting to know that every year records are set for the highest number of Katrinas in one place.

Special customs of the Day of the Dead celebration
But the celebration of the Day of the Dead is not only about these phenomena. Preparations for the Day of the Dead begin weeks and perhaps months in advance. Mexican families designate a special place in their home to honor their dead and then place pictures of them as well as their favorite foods there. In the belief of Mexicans, the dead return to this world on the Day of the Dead to visit their relatives. Therefore, families try to prepare their homes for the arrival of their deceased loved ones. A traditional type of bread known as bread of the dead or Pan de Muerto has also been baked since ancient times during celebrations and is placed next to other things.

As we said, the celebration of the Day of the Dead is held in three days, and each day has a special meaning. The first day of November is dedicated to deceased children and is known as the Day of the Innocents or the Day of the Little Angels. On this day, various toys, sweets and candies are placed on the graves of deceased children and are also placed in the special place of the dead at home to make the children’s spirits happy.

The second day of November is the Day of the Dead, and according to Mexican beliefs, on this day all the spirits of the dead return to this world and to their families. Families go to cemeteries during the night and keep vigil over the graves of their loved ones until morning and spend this special night with them.

One of the special customs of this night is the burning of pine gum, which has been used in special ceremonies since pre-Columbian times. Around the graves are decorated with chocolates and sweets, food, drinks and most importantly with orange parsley flowers. In Mexican belief and culture, orange parsley is known as the flower of the dead. So if you travel to Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration, you will see these orange flowers everywhere.

Places to see in the celebration of the Day of the Dead

We said that the region has its own customs in celebrating this festival. Although the meaning and concept of the Day of the Dead is similar in all these regions, each one has a unique way to celebrate. In the following, we will take a look at the different sections and describe the characteristics of each one.

1- Mexico City

Mexico City held its first Day of the Dead parade in 2016. This parade became a beautiful and colorful celebration that attracted tourists. Everyone wears colorful and cheerful clothes and makes up their faces. Next to them, large skeletons move and dancing and singing cover the entire street where the parade takes place. The parade extends from the Estela de Luz monument to the main square of the city. In each part of the parade, spectators can also join them and sing and dance.

2- Mikvakan city

Michoacán celebrates the Day of the Dead in a special way. In fact, this celebration was taken over by the original inhabitants of the Purépecha region, and now it is performed throughout the city. One of its main attractions is the delicious food that is placed in the streets and alleys. Poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, capdaos, and pan de muerte bagels are must-try dishes in this area.

3- San Luis Potosi region

The indigenous people of this region celebrate the tradition of the Day of the Dead in a classic way. The altar is filled with maryam flowers, sugar skulls and skeleton decorations. In late October to early November, parties gather in the town square and have mass celebrations. In this area, local people prepare “welcome arches” and invite tourists to visit different parts.

4- Guanajuato city

At the beginning of November, the city of Guanajuato (Guanajuato) hosts thousands of tourists who travel to this area to see the memorial altar of the University of Guanajuato. University students, with the help of local people, create a stunning altar to honor their university luminaries. At night, when the candles around the altar are lit, an impressive sight will be created, which is worth a lot of photography.

5- The city of Oaxaca

Families in the city of Oaxaca celebrate the Day of the Dead by building altars and placing family photos, decorative skulls, and food and drink of their loved ones. They decorate the altar with flowers of the dead. During the night, people gather in cemeteries or near altars, sing songs and keep the memories alive.

6- Aguascalientes region

The celebration of the Day of the Dead in Aguascalientes is held as a festival during a week. The Skull Festival (de Calaveras) starts on the first night of November. There will be a traditional skeleton parade that is taken from the “Legends of Mexico”. Spectators go to see the puppets of the festival. The dancers dance in their colorful long dresses and the joy spreads like a spark and everyone joins in the foot stomping.

7- State of Guerrero

The state of Guerrero starts celebrating the dead in early October. The Nahuas are the largest indigenous village people in Mexico, making up 40% of the indigenous population of the state. Their way of celebrating begins with prayers and church bells. But what is different in this city is the way of dancing. They inherited their dance from their African ancestors. “Dance of the Devils” is exciting. Dancers jump and stomp through the streets of Cuajinicuilapa.

8- Yucatan

The people of Yucatan serve a special traditional food on the Day of the Dead. This delicious traditional dish has a complicated recipe and takes a lot of time to prepare. As a result, all family members help to prepare it. Mucbipolli, also known as pib, is a popular traditional dish consisting of chicken or pork mixed with various spices and corn paste. Then they wrap this meat and dough in banana leaves and bury them in a fire pit.

9- Veracruz

The Day of the Dead celebration in Veracruz is more important than Christmas. Because preparation, meal preparation and decoration are done with more planning and dedication. In this area, people spend a week preparing for the Day of the Dead. Then the family moves from their home to the cemetery to pay respect to their relative’s soul.

10- Kampuchea state

The residents of the town of Pumche in Campeche have a long history of celebrating the Day of the Dead. One of the centuries-old traditions in the region is the annual “bone washing” ceremony, where families wash the tombs and clean the bones of their dead. After cleaning, they leave the bones or the box in which the bones are kept open to allow the skulls and bones to receive sun and air. In addition, relatives arrange the bones and paint and decorate them.

11- Sonora region

The Yaqui and Mayo indigenous groups of southern Sonora are among the few ethnic groups that hold monthly ceremonies to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Both groups prepare their altar, decorate it with candles, flowers, photos and food and pray. They make the altar at the highest possible height, because they believe that the dead no longer touch the ground, but move through the air and sky.

When is the Day of the Dead celebration?

The main ceremony is on November 2, the day when people believe that all the souls of the dead return to the living world. But usually the celebration begins on October 28, and each day is dedicated to a different type of death. For example, people who died in accidents or children who died before baptism. On All Saints’ Day, November 1st, there is a celebration in honor of anyone who has lived a pure life, especially children.

Who celebrates the Day of the Dead?

This celebration is primarily a Mexican tradition, but other Catholic countries around the world also honor and commemorate their departed ancestors. For example, in the Philippines, relatives gather at cemeteries, bring flowers and light candles. In Brazil there is “Dia de Finados” day. In many other countries, including the United States, November 2 is similarly recognized as All Souls’ Day.

Devices and symbols of the Day of the Dead celebration

We mentioned that during the celebration of the Day of the Dead, an altar is prepared for the dead at home. The altar usually has several levels. Two levels symbolize earth and sky, three levels refer to sky, earth and Purgatory. Some also design it as seven levels, which indicate the seven steps to enter the afterlife or the seven deadly sins.

Each altar (ofrenda) contains items related to the four main elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Ashes or dirt are usually left as a mark of land upon which the dead may rest. A glass of water is placed so spirits can quench their thirst after a long journey, and tissue paper carved with beautiful motifs is often used as a symbol of air. Candles represent fire and help guide the dead home.

Skulls made of sugar or chocolate, as well as pan de muerto sweets, are usually placed on altars. For children’s altar, they place a small carpet with a doll. Favorite foods, drinks and other things that the lost loved ones were fond of are also placed on the altar. They also put incense or incense to clean the space.

The flower symbolizes the Day of the Dead

The most important flower in this celebration is marigold. Although the meaning may vary, the bright yellow petals of this flower are said to represent the sun and act as a guide for the souls of the dead to return home. Another important flower is white baby’s breath, which means purity. They also use bright red velvet flowers to decorate the altar.

The sweets of the central celebrations of the Day of the Dead

The popular sweet of this celebration is Pan de Muerto or Bread of the Dead. This traditional Mexican sweet is placed in the altar. Most families use this sweet during the month of October. The origin of this sweet goes back to the Aztec culture. In their culture, different types of traditional bread are used in celebrations.

This sweet is prepared in a round shape and they create cross patterns on it, which stand out during baking. Then, they sprinkle sugar or other ingredients on it.​

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