When the dead is more alive than ever!
Día de muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, is one of the greatest festivals that I’ve ever attended. I remember the concept itself was a bit strange to me, considering that I grow up having the culture that “death” is a topic that people don’t bring up, and around the world, most countries have the similar attitude when it comes to death: respect, grief or even fear. But when I was in Mexico, I couldn’t feel any distress when Día de muertos was around the corner, instead, the street were more colorful than ever. If it was someone who didn’t know the existence of Día de muertos would probably think that it was some sort of crazy celebration. I was lucky that my exchange term was a complete full year so I have experienced Día de muertos in Mexico and I absolutely loved it. Today, I’m going to tell you why this is one of the best festivals in the world.
- The origins and the concept of Día de muertos
It is said that the beginning of Día de muertos dated back to the time of Mayan, Aztec and Toltec, they had the idea that “death” isn’t the ultimate end. Sure, death is the end of the path of life, but they believe that there’s an underworld and therefore death is also the start of something new. So there’s no need to mourn over someone’s death since it’s merely a natural phase of life.
And the ancient also believed that on Día de muertos (which takes place on November 1st and the 2nd), the spirit of the deceased will return to the mortal world. The interesting saying is that the first day is when the spirit of kids return because they’re more energetic and run faster, so they arrive first.
The idea and tradition passed on and became the famous Día de muertos.
Now you have an idea of what Día de muertos is like, let me share some of my favorite moments of Día de muertos with you.
- Colorful altars
Altar is one of the centerpiece of Día de muertos. Most households put up altars to honor the deceased. Since the spirit travel a long way back to the mortal world to be with their loved ones, people will need to prepare something to welcome and treat the deceased, so food, sweets and drink are essential. You will also see photos of the deceased member, candles, and flowers. Flowers are mostly marygold, in Spanish, cepamsúchil, with its bright color, people believe that it will lead the spirits to the path back home.
Papel picado, a beautifully cut, thin paper craft decoration is also an important element, usually seen draped around the altar. Since papel picado is so light and thin, it moves softly along with the breeze, indicating the fragility of life. Papel picado isn’t exclusively for Día de muertos, you can see it everywhere in Mexico. It is such a beautiful craft, I bought one home and put it up in my room, always reminding me the good times in Mexico.
With all these elements, the altars of Día de muertos are just full of vibrant colors, and you will always to see all kinds of creative altars, they are slowly becoming a kind of artistic display, decorating the city, in a way.
- Todos somos calaveras
“We’re all skeletons.” This quote came from José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator who often used his illustration to imply criticism towards the society and politics. This phrase, “Todos somos calaveras.” indicated that no matter what you wear on the outside, we are all the same: his drawing was a skeleton in a pretty gown (Catrina). And this impression was so strong that people started to paint their faces and imitate the catrina, eventually became a trend nowadays.
And during Día de muertos, many things are related to skull and skeletons.
Pan de muertos(bread of the dead), is a must eat food during this holiday. The baker use the dough to make a bone-like shape on top of the bread, after it’s well baked, sprinkle some sugar on top for finish. It’s delicious, with a slight scent of orange… people in Mexico eat pan de muertos with hot chocolate, but I find this combination too sweet for me.
And there are calaveritas de azúcar(sugar skulls), pure sugar, not my favorite dessert, but they are no doubt very cute!
- Festivals: La Calaca… and more
Each town has their own way of celebrating Día de muertos, the most popular destination would probably be Patzcuaro in Michoacan, Mixquic in Mexico City and Oaxaca. I didn’t go to any of the above, but I did spend Día de muertos in Tlaquepaque in Guadalajara: there was a great parade of a theme similar to corpse bride ; and the weekend before at San Miguel de Allende for La Calaca Festival. At La Calaca Festival, my friend Ayumi and I participated in an amazing graffiti workshop with a local artist and other people, it was free, by the way!
In short, Día de muertos is a beautiful day, it isn’t only about the death, but also about cherishing loved ones and living to the fullest…when you’re still alive and well!