The Day of the Dead is a Mexican and Catholic holiday that is most commonly celebrated in Mexico to honor and remember the ones that have died and celebrate their memories and life. In Catholic theology, All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day, stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven and commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven. The multi-day holiday occurs in homes, public spaces, and schools to honor the lives and memories of one’s deceased and runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.
The History Behind the Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead started with the practices of the Aztecs. The Aztecs originated and built themselves in what is now southern Mexico. In the Aztecs’ ceremony, they would dance the devil’s dance while paying their respects. With the dance, the Aztecs would celebrate by giving sacrifices in honor of the gods and would sometimes use bones of the deceased to play instruments for the events and ceremonies that followed.
The main points of the celebration come down to acknowledgment, remembrance, and communication. Death was not seen as the end of one’s existence but rather a new chapter of life. The Day of the Dead is one of the few days in which the spirits can leave the spirit realm and visit their loved ones in the mortal world.
The second day of Day of the Dead, Nov. 1, is considered the Day of the Angels, where children and young people who passed before they could be loved arrive in the mortal realm. The second day is the day where the children and adult spirits unite and visit the families at the same time.
How to celebrate
There are multiple ways to celebrate the Day of the Dead and in Mexico starting as early as Oct. 30 the residents that live in the mortal realm begin to prepare for their loving guests. In Mexico and other locations, families clean tombstones and grave plaques and fill cemeteries with music and life.
The cleaning process can vary from cleaning and leaving a simple candle, drinks, marigolds, candles, incense, and photographs. Special foods, bread, tangerines, guavas, pipian, pan de muerto, anise, mole, and other foods that the deceased loved or favored are added to the altar so that the spirits can eat and drink and celebrate with the living.
After the cleaning process and decorating of the altar the steps that follow are festivals and paying respect to the spirits that guide and protect. The altar decorations and paying respects is not a somber event and is insulting per Aztec belief if one is sad or mourning on the Day of the Dead.
The levels to an Ofrenda
Ofrendas in public or the privacy of one’s home multiple levels represent elements and Aztec belief. The basics about each level are that there can only be two, three, or seven levels. The second level is the division between the earth and the sky and fruits of the land/and the elements of the air, rain, wind, sunshine. The third level represents the sky and earth. While the seventh is most commonly depicted as the route a soul must travel through before reaching heaven or hell in regards to the Catholic belief.
The Art of the Ofrenda
The decorations of a ofrenda can vary from extremely artistic to simple. Each altar has something different and each represents something larger than it truly is. For example, the arch made of marigolds that is usually over and around an altar represents the entry into the land of the dead.
Food and recognition
Food and beverages provided are to feed and quench the hunger and thirst of the spirits and their travel to the mortal world. Examples of food that the dead enjoy vary from the mole, pipian, bistec, pan de muerto, tortas, and drinks like Coca-Cola.
Another reference towards the beauty of death is the skull and or as told in Spanish, “calaveritas de azúcar,” which is a confrontation for the observer of their mortality and the idea that one night years from now they will be honored and remembered.
Overall, the annual Mexican tradition of The Day of the Dead is often celebrated in large groups since the holiday is in honor of the dead, and loss is annual despite this idea, with new knowledge and understanding, people should attempt to celebrate and respect the days in honor of the dead and their spirits. After all, the day is worth guiding the people one loves before they exit and return to the mortal realm.