200 Years of Life and Death
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a festival celebrated on November 1st and 2nd and is an interesting mix of pre-Hispanic practices and Roman Catholicism. Before the Spaniards arrived, indigenous people celebrated the return of souls during the months of July and August. Now November 1 is set aside for All Saints, the deceased infants and children, referred to as “angelitos” or little angels in English and those who died as adults are remembered on November 2, All Souls Day.
The focus of Dia de los Muertos is to bring the spirits of the dead back to this world so they can eat, drink and be merry, just as they did when they were living. Ofrendas (offerings) are made to entice the dearly departed to return to this world. These offerings include the fragrance of flowers (zempasuchil, an Indian word for a special type of marigold), pan de muertos (a rich bread decorated with “bones”), sugar skulls, candles, copal incense, religious items, photographs, favorite foods and drinks of loved ones. The lives of the dead are celebrated by remembering their accomplishments, as well as their shortcomings – a very honest and sincere reflection of the loved one.
In some areas of Mexico, festivities will begin on October 31 when relatives gather at cemeteries bearing gifts and flowers for those who have left this realm. These gatherings are quite lively with music, food and drink. The celebration also takes place at home with altars of offerings that are built to honor departed ancestors or loved ones. The biggest and most colorful celebrations of Dia de los Muertos take place in Oaxaca, Mixquic, Patzcuaro, Aguacalientes and Chiapa de Corzo. In the Yucatan, Merida offers a unique version of Day of the Dead, called Hanal Pixan (Mayan for Food for the Souls). Traditionally, the Mayans celebrated in private at their homes, but now there are beautiful altars on display for the public to see and well as other events taking place in the city.
Here in the Riviera Maya, you can get a taste of Dia de los Muertos at Xcaret in Playa del Carmen from October 30-November 2. Since it is Mexico’s Bicentennial, the theme is 200 Years of Life and Death to honor this wonderful tradition of celebrating the cycle of life and death.