Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them!
Calaveras and Calacas walking down the streets, with wide black eyes and molten carcasses hanging from left to right. River of black and red roses giving way to the mystical land of the dead, where nobody is without a tale to tell. The crawling skeleton hands offering you drinks and food. No, it’s not a nightmare! But the most celebrated and colourful festival is Dia De Los Muertos of the land of extremes Mexico.
I’m sure we all could relate to Coco when he so eagerly wanted to know about the hidden truth of his ancestors and took the plunge to dive into the other side. Tripping down the stairs with his little guitar, he only wished for his ancestors to have a peaceful homage. What better than to recollect and replenish all the memories once a year and spread vibrant colours all over the town. Dia De Los Muertos or Day of The Dead is a 2-day celebration wrapped around the streets of Mexico, remembering the dead and create ofredas(offerings) for the departed. The beautiful reunion of the living and the dead will be celebrated on November 1st and 2nd of this year.
A tradition passed down from generations, The Day of the Dead dates back to several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who believed that mourning the dead was disrespectful. A belief that death was a part of the natural phase of mortal life, these pre-Hispanic cultures were brought into light where the dead were still remembered as a part of the community. It is the faith of the people that during Dia De Los Muertos, the spirits of the dead temporarily pay a visit to the Earth.
Today The Day of the Dead is an amalgamation of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts circling 2 days with elaborate meals, costumes and reaffirming life as we know it. A series of events that mark the 2-day celebration pan out with little Alters created in the homes of the people and massive flower decorations with parades.
The kernel point of all the festivities revolves around building the Altars, which are not for worship but to invite and welcome back the spirits of the departed to one’s homes. Every household digs up memorabilia, pictures accompanied by delicious ofrendas for the dead relatives. Decorated with marigold flowers, the altar is a sight for sour eyes which is embellished with knick-knacks, food and water for the souls after their long journey back. The perfect welcome party for the dead. The marigold flowers are scattered from the altar to the gravesite and act as a missing puzzle piece for the digressed souls to reach back to their place of rest. The altars are lit with candles and copal incense sticks that purify and express the warmth to the ancestors. Another charming touch to these altars is the sugar skulls or Calaveras that are placed as ofrendasto loved ones. Calaveras act like a little icing on the cake, where people draw them with a smile as a significance to laugh at death.
La Comida – Food for the Dead
We can’t imagine going a day without food, so picture the thirst and hunger of the spirits travelling back to the realm of the living, especially when they are offered their favourite meals. If you want to experience the flavours of Mexican food, this is the right time to indulge your taste buds. Mexico is not only famous for its spicy tacos but lip-smacking traditional dishes that respire in the two days of the festivities. Secret old recipes are dug out of treasure boxes to make the ancestors feel welcome back. A typical sweet bread called pan dulce or the bread of the dead is decorated with anise seeds and are given shapes of bones and skulls. Among other delicious offerings porridge made out of freshly chopped off maize is a must for long lost relatives.
Spilling into the streets of Mexico, Day of the Dead is not bound by any restrictions, after all, it is the reunion of the dead and the alive. A series of celebratory activities and parades spread day and night, it has turned into a social holiday where people get together and welcome the dead. Dressing up in skeletons, resembling faces with skulls and painted faces are the tea to this day.
Facts to remember about Day of the Dead!
- It is nothing like Halloween, where the night is all about evils, spooky and scary mischiefs but about creating a safe space for the dead and treating them as a part of their community.
- Death is celebrated as an inevitable phase of life, which is a celebratory occasion and nothing to be sombre about.
- It is not only Mexicans that believe in the departed souls coming back to visit, but many religious communities cater to the celebrated act of honouring the dead.