What is “Day of the Dead”?

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration of prehistoric origin that honors the dead on November 2nd. The celebration begins on November 1st, and it coincides with the catholic celebration of All Saints Day.

Day of the Dead is a mexican festivity that is also celebrated in certain countries in Central America, as well as certain communities in the United States where a big Mexican or Central American population is found. The UNESCO has declared Day of the Dead as Intangible Cultural Heritage. Day of the Dead is also celebrated in Brazil, where it is called Dia dos Finados, but this festivity does not have the same prehistoric roots as the Mexican.

The origins of the celebration trace back to even before the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. There is proof of celebrations within the Mexica (Aztec), Mayan, Purepecha and Totonaca civlizations. The rituals that celebrate the lives of the predecessors of these civilizations can be dated back three thousand years. In the prehistoric era, it was common to preserve the skulls as trophies and show them during rituals that symbolized death and re-birth. This is why the tradition involves the creation of sugar skulls to honor the dead.

The festival that is now known as Day of the Dead was commemorated on the ninth month of the aztec solar calendar (close to the beginning of August), and it was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities where garrisoned by Mictecacíhuatl, also known as the Goddess of Death (now related to “La Catrina”) and wife of Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead. Such festivities were dedicated to the celebration of children and the lives of relatives that had passed away.

There are many important aspects on the tradition and depending on the region in Mexico celebrations may vary slightly. The most common things present in a traditional Day of the Dead celebration are Altars which must include at least the following:

1. Picture of loved one
2. Cempazuchitl Flower
3. Candles
4. Sugar Skulls
5. Pan de Muerto (Traditional Day of the Dead bread)
6. Paper decorations
7. Favorite Food
8. Favorite Drink

Day of the Dead Altar basics

Day of the Dead Altar basics
Source: http://www.facebook.com/MexicanFoodTours

“La Catrina” is an important character in the Day of the Dead celebrations. The image has become a staple in Mexican imagery and it was created by José Guadalupe Posada in 1910. Since then, “La Catrina” is present in every Day of the Dead celebration. The original artwork is shown below and nowadays you can find endless variations to it. Some towns even go as far as holding “Catrina” contests. The pictures are from Tlaquepaque’s “Catrina” contest. All “Catrinas” were made by students of the School of Plastic Arts of Tlaquepaque.

Catrina - Jose Guadalupe Posada

Catrina by José Guadalupe Posada

All images provided by Mexican Food Tours