The festival of the dead: Día de los Muertos
One of the most important holidays in Mexico is the Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos, as it is called in Spanish. The celebration is on November 1st and 2nd. In the Catholic Church this corresponds to All Saints ‘Day and All Souls’ Day. In the Mexican festival of the dead, the traditions and customs of the Indians mixed with those of the Catholics.
The Maya and Aztecs believed that the dead would return to earth once a year. There they would celebrate a great reunion with the living. The Spanish Christian missionaries tried to abolish the festival that was celebrated in August. But that didn’t work and so it was merged with All Saints’ Day and celebrated at the beginning of November.
A happy festival
The day of the dead is not a day of mourning, but a happy folk festival. In the belief of the Mexicans, the souls of the deceased return to their relatives on this day. The festival is dedicated to their memory. The streets, apartments and cemeteries are decorated with yellow and orange flowers. They are supposed to help the dead find their way from the cemetery to the apartment. You can also see skeletons and skulls as jewelry everywhere.
Gifts for the dead
In the apartments, an altar and table for gifts is prepared for the dead, which often consists of several floors. Then come the offrendas, the gifts for the dead. In addition to photos of the deceased, flowers and candles, often also a cross and rosaries, there are also the favorite foods and drinks of the dead. They should strengthen themselves with them. There is also the sweet bread pan de muerte or skulls made from sugar mass, the calavera de dulce. Later, the revelers eat the groceries. You tell stories from the life of the deceased, which can also be funny stories. Some families also celebrate directly in the cemetery.
Dance in the cemetery
The souls of the deceased children are remembered on November 1st and the adults on November 2nd, this is the actual day of the dead. They say goodbye to them in the evening at the cemetery. People eat and dance there too. At midnight the dead return to the afterlife.
The feast of the dead is coming to the north
The day of the dead is not traditionally known in northern Mexico, as none of the Mesoamerican peoples lived here. Today it is celebrated here more than it used to be, because some families brought it with them when they moved north, and the Day of the Dead has been part of the curriculum of all schools for some time. Especially in the north, Halloween from the USA is also finding its way into Mexico.
Christmas in Mexico
In the 16th century, the Spanish conquerors brought their culture and religion with them to Mexico – and so did Christmas. But here it mixed with other Indian customs and so it is celebrated a little differently. While we are more contemplative, people in Mexico like to party happily and loudly. To get more information on Mexico and North America, check cancermatters.
The posadas and piñatas are part of the tradition. At a posada, Mary and Joseph’s search for a hostel is re-enacted. The Posadas will take place from December 16 to 24. These nine days symbolize the nine months of pregnancy of Mary. Sometimes the Posadas are big street parades with fireworks and music, sometimes you just meet at a family’s house.
Two guests play Maria and Joseph, the host and his family are in the house. Alternately there is singing, with Mary and Joseph asking for accommodation, which they are denied before they are invited in at the end. Eating and drinking should not be missing at the Posada. There are buñuelos (fried meats) and ponche, a punch, for the adults with a dash of tequila. There is also dancing and singing and there is a happy party.
Then the children are allowed to smash the piñata (see everyday life). At Christmas, the piñata usually has the traditional shape of a ball with seven points. These stand for the seven deadly sins and thus for the evil that is then smashed. Incidentally, the piñatas were brought to Mexico by Christian missionaries from Spain.
Pastorelas are also performed in many places. This is the depiction of the shepherds’ migration to the baby Jesus. On the way, the devil tempts them, but the Archangel Gabriel leads them back on the right path. Often the pastorelas are very funny.
A flower dance in the fair
On December 24th, Christmas Eve, or Buena Noche in Spanish, the family attends midnight mass. It begins with the flower dance – the Baile de la Flor. The baby Jesus is symbolically placed in the manger. Often there is a banquet at home only after the service. Many families serve a turkey. Only then are the children allowed to open their presents!
Merry Christmas or: Feliz navidad!