Saturday, 2 November 2013

Día de los Muertos

This weekend, here in Mexico, has been cause for celebration. Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a fascinating tradition practised in much of Latin America, and I thought it would be interesting to find out a bit more about it. Essentially, it is a celebration honouring the death of the ancestors, remembering their lives, and bringing families together to pray for the souls of the deceased. 

Here in San Carlos, it began on Thursday evening, October 31st (All Hallows Eve), with the rather unfortunate adoption of the American custom of Halloween: young kiddies dressed up, going around the gringo neighbourhoods asking for sweets. But Friday, November 1st (All Saints' Day) is when things really began. Skulls are a common symbol of the holiday, with masks and sweets in skull and skeleton shapes.

Figurines in a local shop

Another famous symbol of the holiday are the Catrina figures (La Catrina), believed to be based on the goddess, "Lady of the Dead."
I rather like the scene depicted in the photo below, of a procession of skeletons through a square.  (Next to a scene of the birth of Christ...?)

For sale in a local shop for the holiday

Families prepare altars in their homes, or shrines to deceased family members, offer the skull sweets and marigold flowers, as well as the favourite foods of the deceased. By November 2nd (All Souls' Day), the families have moved on to the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. There, they have more of the offerings, candles, photos of the deceased, and their favourite foods. Stories and funny anecdotes are often told. It is, as I understand it, a way to entice the souls to visit so that they may hear the prayers of the family.

Fascinating stuff. What struck me the most about this popular Mexican holiday was the importance of family. Getting together as a family to remember family. What may seem slightly morbid (parties in the cemetery? Picnics on graves?) is actually a very respectful tradition.
The families stay up all night. Children also get to hear all the stories about great-grandparents or old uncles, or more tragically, older brothers or sisters that they may hardly remember. Musicians wander through the cemetery playing favourite songs. It truly is a celebration.

Perhaps why I like the idea of this holiday so much is that, like many people nowadays, my own family is scattered across the globe. We often reminisce about family members since passed, especially on their birthdays, but it isn't quite the same as all getting together once a year for a three day event, celebrating their lives.

At any rate, I shall sit here today, under the Mexican sun, and remember my family. I shall perhaps leave the skeletons and such to those more accustomed to it though...