El dia de muertos is one of the traditions for which Mexico is the most famous around the world. And with reason.
It is a very unusual way to relate to death as it is some sort of celebration to reconnect with the dead of the year, but in a positive way. It is very scenographic and has the whole tradition that goes with it. It is celebrated the 2nd of November.
It has become increasingly popular, both for fashion trends and for Spectre, the James Bond movie – despite that, in real life it is quite different from the movie.
Since weeks before the date you can find in local markets sweets, chocolates and sugar shapes decorated in the shape of calaveras – skulls -.
In homes and public places are made altars for prayers and offerings with favourite food of the departed which is free to people that pass by to take to remember the dead.
In the capital some museums and cultural institutions organize some events that last the time of the celebrations. These include both offrendas – the offering of food – and more mundane events as parades of costumes.
This said, if you wish to have a real Mexican experience and not the commercial version of it, the way to go is indeed some small villages and pueblos magicos outside the capital, Patzucaro is one of the most recommended. There families prepare the traditional offerings for their loved ones.
The tradition comes from the Aztec celebrations for the goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl, with the celebration of All Saints in the Catholic world.
The same union is found in the “Santa Muerte”, a saint venerated for the justice of death among the people alive (which, however, isn’t accepted by the official Church).
The belief is that the dead are coming back and we have to welcome them with celebrations. The offer of food is a way of showing the death our love and appreciation for them, and they will taste from the essence of it.
The families would make altars for prayers with recalls to the four elements. There are food, flowers and bread (pan de muertos, see below), representing earth, cloths and decorated the paper fliers (the wind), candles for fire and drinks for water.
As it is a pagan tradition, it wasn’t well seen by Catholic Church, but from the ‘60s is a national holiday in Mexico to honor its pre-Columbian roots. It is traditionally of the Aztec area: the centre of Mexico, around Mexico City.
A very nice representation of the day of death is in the animation movie “The book of Life”, which I absolutely loved and gives a peak through the tradition and Mexico also for adults.
THE PROTAGONISTS: Catrina and Catrin
Ladies and gentleman, these are ones you were waiting for: the lady in the dress, la Calavera Catrina, sometimes represented with Catrin, her husband.
They are the ones you see in the procession in Spectre. She wasn’t actually part of the tradition, was added in after the drawing of a Mexican artist as a satirical representation of the Mexican society of its time.
Its charm, however, has called attention upon the Mexican tradition, becoming one of the symbols of the country in mainstream culture.
There are the sugar skulls in the markets, but there is something else more delicious and worth trying.
Typical of this period is the dreaded and loved pan de muertos: a sweet bun with bones decoration on top which is extremely traditional of the period and only found around this festivity. Mexicans (and foreigners) absolutely love it! But hate it to, because it marks the beginning of the delicious and fat foods of the season leading till Christmas…not diet friendly (but worth it).
(I hope not 🙂 )
British Museum video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FHrhH9k-PY
What’s up in Patzucaro? http://www.lakepatzcuaro.org/DayOfDead.html
Celebrate in Mexico City: http://event-carnival.com/mexico/day-of-the-dead