Feliz Día de los Muertos 2022

día de Los Muertos! 

     Prior to its spread to the rest of the world, Día de los Muertos had been mainly celebrated in Mexico for nearly three centuries. It remains one of the largest religious celebrations in the country even after the separation of Church and State in 1860, serving to celebrate not only life but life after death as well as honoring passed ancestors. While the rural areas of Mexico celebrated for mostly religious reasons their counterparts in more urban settings saw the holiday as a “more secular and popularized… part of the national culture. Some started the holiday’s traditions as a form of political commentary,” especially towards those of higher power such as politicians (Román). It is important to note that Día de los Muertos is not to be mistaken as the “Mexican version of Halloween” despite the festivities and merriment of music, parades, dancing, and decorations. Halloween traces its origins to Celtic Festivals in which participants dressed as ghouls or “monsters of the night” in order to drive away dark and evil spirits but now involves decorating homes with fear themed decorations, wearing costumes, and trick-or-treating. Día de los Muertos combines the Catholic All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day with ancient Mesoamerican culture and rituals. When the Spanish entered, invaded, and conquered the Aztec Empire in the 1500s, they brought with them their own Catholic practices and beliefs which included All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1st and 2nd). As conquerors of a “new world” they took it upon themselves to move all indigenous holidays and ritual practices to their Catholic calendar which began the eventual rise of Día de los Muertos of today. 

Brief History

     While modern day Día de los Muertos is a well-known site not many outside of the culture understand some of the deeper origins and roots. Nearly three centuries ago, what is now modern-day Mexico was inhabited by pre-Columbian indigenous people of Mesoamerica which included the Aztecs, Mayas, Omecs, Toltecs, Mixtecs, and Zapotecs. Ancient Mesoamericans regularly practiced rituals which honored their dead, building ofrendas (altars) featuring and items that brought them joy in life but most importantly useful tools that would aid them in the afterlife. The Aztecs were known to have dedicated an entire month to celebrate and honor not only the dead but also to pay homage to Mictlancíhuatl, the Lady of Death, who protected, watch over, and aided the souls of the deceased in the afterlife. It was their belief that death was an integral part of life, that the world and universe worked in a cyclical manner. Those who died, they believed, traveled to the Land of the Dead (Chicunamictlán) and would go through “nine challenging levels, a journey of several years” before being able to reach their final resting place in Mictlán (History.com). Another common sight during these rituals were skulls displayed at temples as part of how the dead were honored. This tradition continued through the ages and is now reflected in the creation, decoration, and display of sugar skulls today. 


     Día de los Muertos officially begins at 12 AM on November 1st. The first day is referred to as Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) when the spirits of deceased children enter the realm of the living for 24 hours. It is thought by some that the Day of the Little Angels is first because they’re quicker on their feet compared to their adult counterparts. At 12 AM on November 2nd the spirits of deceased adults visit, referred to as Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead). The Ofrendas for both days are starkly different. While the children’s boasts more toys and candies the adults offer not only foods but alcohol. It is during these days when families will gather to clean and decorate the graves of their passed loved ones, a way of coming together as a family in remembrance and celebration of a life once lived. A common site to see at these graves are calaveras (skulls’ that have been colorfully painted, often with a smile, or marigolds which are believed to “be the pathways that guide the spirits to their ofrendas. The flower’s vibrant colors and scent attract the departed souls, as they return to feast on their favorite foods” (Day of the Dead). Following Día de los Difuntos, at noon on November 2nd is when Día de los Muertos (Spirits of all the Dead) is grandly and publicly celebrated. And did you know that the first Día de los Muertos parade to be celebrated in Mexico City did not happen until 2016? Despite its centuries long tradition there had been no official parade added to the city’s repertoire until after the release of the 2015 James Bond film Spectre that had featured a then non-existent Day of the Dead parade. And the love for the parade which features beautiful and vibrant colors grew after the 2017 Pixar film Coco was released (History.com). However, festivals and smaller, more local parades are a common sight during this holiday as they cover miles upon miles of streets and roads. Lining many of these streets and even homes are papel picados (paper cut outs) of various shades and hues of color that will often feature cut outs of happy skeletons or foods. Many of the floats will feature brightly colored flowers and contain various sized mystical, fantastical creatures known as Alebrijes. They are a conglomeration of different animals and their specific characteristics but are still majestic and almost surreal. In Mexican culture, they are referred to as spirit guides and “creatures of dreams.” 

     Today, Día de los Muertos brings together millions across the globe not only in celebration of family but also in community (Mexicanmuseum.org). In the United States alone there are an estimated 62.7 million Hispanic or Latino identifying citizens making up 18.9% of the total population (~333.9 million people) in 2021 according to the United States Census Bureau. And since 2008, Día de los Muertos has been acknowledged by UNESCO and added to their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, forever cementing the holiday as an unforgettable, immovable, and forever important piece of not only Mexican culture but humanity’s culture as well.

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