The day of the dead: between mysticism and tradition
On November 1 and 2, we celebrate and await the visit of loved ones who are no longer physically on this earthly plane, but their spirit comes to visit us for one night. It is an opportunity to remember their presence, to feel their soul close, as if they were still here, with us.
Every year, since the beginning of October (because in some Mexican communities it is said that from October 31 the festivities of the faithful departed begin with the visit of the souls of the little ones who are no longer physically with us).
This Mexican tradition was already celebrated since pre-Hispanic times. Perhaps not with all the elements that currently characterize it, but our ancestors already had a relationship with death of respect and where life as it is known ends, but it is the beginning of another stage. It was from the 16th century, with the arrival of the Spanish, that it became a mestizo festival as we know it today. This was mixed with the celebration with the Catholic festivities of the faithful departed: the bread of the dead, which is made with wheat and orange blossom perfume, are elements of this Spanish influence. Each region of Mexico, having its own customs and symbols, has brought those colors and diversity to this celebration. For example, in the city of Janitzio in the state of Michoacán, an evening is held in the cemeteries, where with candles, music and food, they pay tribute to loved ones who have left. Another example is the addition of symbols typical of the region, such as jaguar or deer-shaped candelabras in some communities in the state of Chiapas. There are two elements that characterize this celebration:
-The altar of the dead:
The Altar of the Dead is a mix between elements of Mexican pre-Hispanic culture and Spanish heritage. These are the signs that are present in every Mexican altar.
BREAD of the dead
It symbolizes the goodness of the host and the land.
-candles and candles
They symbolize love and guide the souls of the dead to the altar.
-glass of water
Take care of the thirst of the souls who have undertaken this long journey to the altar and give them the strength to return.
– Papel picado
It symbolizes the union between life and death. Also the joy of receiving the spirits of our loved ones.
Often used as an element of purification and prayer, it drives away evil spirits and draws spirits to the altar.
-Sugar OR CHOCOLATE SKULLS
They symbolize the deceased of the family.
Symbol of purification of souls.
-CEMPASUCHIL FLOWER PATH
Its aroma and color will guide the spirits to the altar.
-OBJECTS, FOOD OR PHOTOS OF THE DECEASED
To him or to whom the altar is dedicated. Besides his favorite food. Also favorite things: alcohol, cigars, sweets.
The white flowers symbolize the sky, the yellow ones guide the souls of the deceased to this universe.
-A CROSS of ASH OR WOOD
Help the spirits to repair their mistakes in your life.
– Pan de Muerto
An element of Mexican gastronomy that mixes pre-Hispanic Mexican tradition and colonial heritage is undoubtedly PAN DE MUERTO.
According to the oral tradition of Mexico, there are several versions of the origin of Pan de Muerto: one of them says that in pre-Hispanic times the inhabitants carried out human sacrifices in rituals, where a girl was sacrificed and her heart was submerged in a pot with amaranth to then be bitten as an offering. The Spanish, during the Conquest, found this situation so violent that they looked for a way to replace the ritual. So they created a bread of the dead made of wheat flour in the shape of a heart and covered with red sugar, to represent the heart of the young woman.
Here is the meaning of the symbols in this essential Mexican element of the Fiesta de los Muertos, particularly its important place on the mystical Altar of the Dead: (See infographic)
For all the symbolism, richness and tradition in Mexican culture, the celebration of the Day of the Dead has been inscribed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.