Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos in Mexico is a celebration like no other.
Waiting to go back to Bolivia to get riding again, we found ourselfves in Qaxaca city in Mexico for Day of the Dead. We spoke to Jim Martin from Adventure Rider Radio about the incredible colourful, noisy, happy celebration of death that is Dia de los Muertos in Mexico.
Día de los Muertosis not a Mexican version of Halloween. Though related, the two annual events differ greatly. Whereas Halloween is a dark night of terror and mischief, Day of the Dead festivities unfold over two days in an explosion of colour.
Yes, it is death and skulls, it is about death, but it is all about love and respect for deceased family members. In towns and cities throughout Mexico, revelers skull and death makeup and costumes, hold parades and parties, sing and dance, and make offerings to lost loved ones. It is a celebration with humour, although taken seriously.
The entire few days are days of fun, people are happy, small vendors sells foods, drinks and souvernirs on the street. Brass bands parade through the street singing playing out of tune songs. People follow them like the pied piper.
In 2008, UNESCO added Día de los Muertos to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Mexicans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds celebrate Día de los Muertos, but at its core, the holiday is a reaffirmation of indigenous life.
The centerpiece of the celebration is an altar, or ofrenda, built in private homes, sidewalks, cemeteries or wherever they feel. These aren’t altars for worshipping, they’re meant to welcome spirits back to the life of the living. And it has to be done properly.
They go full out, they’re loaded with offerings—beers, water to quench thirst after the long journey, typical Mexican foods, artifacts from the family, candles for each dead relative, and some more just for good measure.
Flor del Muerto
Marigolds symbolized death in Aztec culture in pre-Columbian Mexico. These flor del muerto are used to decorate ofrendas and are painted onto the calaveras. Marigolds are the main flowers used to decorate the altar and a big part of the celebrations.
If one of the spirits is a child, you might find small toys on the altar. Before the day of the dead there are many fields of Marigolds with spances of golden yellow flowers.
Scattered from altar to gravesite, marigold petals guide wandering souls back to their place of rest. The smoke from copal incense, made from tree resin, transmits praise and prayers and purifies the area around the altar.
Calavera means “skull.” The calavera (a word that means “skull” in Spanish but that has come to mean the entire skeleton) has become one of the most recognisable cultural and artistic elements of the Day of the Dead festivities.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, calavera was used to describe short, humorous poems, which were often sarcastic tombstone epitaphs published in newspapers that poked fun at the living. Made from wood, paper maché, sugar paste, or carved bone, the colorful calavera are joyful, celebratory figures.
The Catrina, a female skeleton wearing fashionable clothes (from catrin, the word for elegance), is the famous female figure for the Day of te Dead. The Catrina figure first appeared under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1911) as a satire of the upper classes.