Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mexicans Celebrate Dia de los Muertos with Joy

We know death is unavoidable. “It is the inescapable destiny of human life,” expressed Mexican writer Laura de la Vega a couple of years ago.

For that reason, Mexicans prefer to celebrate de Day of the Dead with joy instead of crying for them; they organize this celebration to familiarize the younger ones with the idea of death, to help them accept it as the last step in our lives.

Aztecs believed the spirit of the deceased lived in Mictlán, a serene and nice place away from earth until November 2, when it returned to meet its old friends and family members.

For this celebration, Mexicans prepare altars in their houses to honor loved ones who are no longer with them and visit cemeteries to decorate the tombs of friends and family members who have passed away; they also place offerings on the tombs.

María Luisa Villegas from Veracruz, México, shares her pictures and her experience during the festivities:

Something strange happened to me before I staring writing this commentary. I was at home, on October 31, getting ready for the celebration that takes place November 1 and 2 according to the Catholic calendar, when a group of kids knocked on my door saying Happy Halloween.

I could not help but feel surprised by such event; I was seeing the strong influence that our uncomfortable northern neighbor exerts on my people.

However, I strongly believe that this was just an isolated incident if we compare it to everything that goes on around the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, one of the most important festivities for Mexicans.

Although I do not follow all of my country’s traditions, I can comment that the “Halloween” that in Mexico translates to Dia de los Muertos, it is filled with unnumbered details and curious facts. People start with preparations for the event before November 1, All Saints Day, or the day of the “small dead people”, how some people refer to it, where people commemorate the death of young ones in the family. On that day, family members place toys as well as the other elements that are usually places on altars.

Mexicans celebrate “big dead people” day November 2, the death of older people and the loved ones; this is the most important day of the celebration.

On this date, family members decorate the tomb of the deceased, clean up the tomb, and prepare an altar next to it with objects designed to guide their in their journey after death; the decoration of the tombs and the preparation of the altar in the most important ritual of the celebration.

The easier way to design altars is to prepare it using colored papers at home so you can place picture of the dead person and that person’s favorite food underneath it.

According to tradition, the altar must have seven steps, each one with its own significance. The picture of the person who has died should be placed in the topmost and most important step.

The following elements should be placed in the altar:

  • Confetti paper that serves as decorations

  • A cross made out of lime

  • A white piece of cloth

  • Yellow and purple cempasuchil flowers

  • Candles

  • Fruits: normally, oranges, tangerine, jicama, sugar cane and tejicotes

  • Sugar skulls

  • Typical “pan de muerto” that is sold in Mexican bakeries

  • Death person’s favorite dishes

  • Photograph of the deceased

After everything is set and ready, people wait for the return of their loved ones’ soul to come and enjoy the gift that the family prepared with so much love.

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