Day of the dead facts highlight the belief of Mexican people in life after death. For them, death is a window, which releases them to another world that exists beyond ours and they celebrate this fact by honoring their dead relatives!
From the very dawn of mankind, the concept of death has both baffled as well as intrigued the human mind. Different cultures have their own interpretations of the phenomenon of life and death.
For Mexicans, death and dying is not the end of life. It is in fact a passage through which a human soul enters a new, more sublime life. It is this belief that the Day of the Dead, an annual celebration in Mexico, upholds.
Quite contrary to the eerie feeling that the name of the celebration may evoke, Day of the Dead facts indicate the high reverence that Mexicans have for the deceased. On this day, the Mexicans honor and remember their deceased relatives and have elaborate celebrations that might be difficult to understand for people of the West.
Like many other rituals, information about the origin of this Day is blurred by the shadows of prehistory.
Although its roots can be conclusively traced back to the Aztecs, there are feeble evidence that point that the ritual originated in the Olmec civilization.
The Olmecs thrived as early as 1200 to 400 B.C., much before the Aztecs dominated the region from 14th to 16th century. (In fact many Meso-American cultures like the Aztec, Maya and Zapotec are known to have risen from the Olmecs).
However, reliable findings indicate that Los Dias de los Muertos or Day of the Dead was a month long celebration that lasted the entire month of Miccailhuitontli (end of July - beginning of August) of the Aztec calendar. It was presided over by Mictecacihuatl - the Lady of the Dead and Huitzilopochtli - the God of War.
Influence of Christianity
The ritual continued to be celebrated all over central America in its original form till the conquest by the New World explorers in the 16th century. With the European conquistadors came the Catholic priests.
What the initial conquerors witnessed was sacrilegious for their Christian sensibilities. The Europeans found it difficult to find any rationality about celebrating the dead. They could not justify the sense of joy that was associated with the festival.
Facts on the Day of the Dead indicate that the priests tried to rein in the ritual. Their influence resulted in shortening the duration of the festival from a month to just two days - November 1st and 2nd, that coincide with the All Saints' Day and the All Souls' Day respectively.
However, their efforts had varying results and the ritual, although still celebrated all over Latin America, varies from country to country.
Day of the Dead has been a part of the Mexican culture for over 3000 years now. It is celebrated as a national holiday in Mexico.
Mexicans who live in the United States and in Central America also observe this event. Depending upon the region, the details of the celebrations differ. Nevertheless the spirit of honoring the dead remains the same.
An important aspect of the Aztec culture that is still preserved is the use of human skull. The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations used skulls to honor the dead.
Today people wear wooden skull masks known as calacas that have become a symbol of the celebration, and dance in honor of those that are gone. Sugar skulls are also made with the name of a deceased relative engraved on it. These sugar skulls are eaten by friends or family members.
People visit the graves of their relatives. They clean and decorate the graves with offerings and the marigold flowers that are supposed to attract the souls. Offerings include favorite candies of the deceased relatives. If the dead are children, toys are taken to their graves. Adults are offered bottles of tequila.
All these offerings uphold the belief in life after death of the Mexican people. Mexicans believe that their dead relatives will visit them during this festival, and hence preparations for gifts and offering for the souls span almost over the entire year!
Private altars are also erected in the cemeteries where the favorite food and drinks of the dead relative are placed. The altars are decorated with photos and memorabilia of the dead. Altars are also made at home and decorated with objects that a deceased relative was fond of.
Other than the wooden masks, foods like sugar or chocolate skulls and type of sweet egg bread made in the shape of skulls and rabbits are symbols of the festival.
Day of the dead celebrations held in honor of the dead may be difficult for many of us to comprehend. Nevertheless, it is a tradition that has made through centuries of foreign influence and survives to this day as a reminder that death is not the end of everything, that is, if only you believe in it!