The Day of the Dead

By tanyadominguez | On 31/10/2016 | Comments (0)

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By: Adrian Enciso

“The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us. Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of infinite cycle.”

Octavio Paz, "All Saints, The Day of the Dead”, The Labyrinth Of Solitude.

One of the most emblematic holidays of the Mexican culture takes place on November the 1st and the 2nd, during which families remember and honor the memory of their departed relatives. The Day of the Dead is a crucial element to understand the vision of Mexicans on the life-death cycle and represents a main component of their identity worldwide.

The origins of this celebration date from the Pre-Hispanic era. Mesoamerican cultures performed rites to honor their dead, to celebrate their lives or, at the moment of their burial, to help them arrive safe and sound to the place they would dwell when leaving this world. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the evangelists mixed these traditions with the Christian rituals of the All Saint’s Eve and All Saint’s Day holidays. The result is an extraordinary festivity, unique all over the world.

During these days, the first dedicated to the children and the second to the adults, people look forward to remembering the lifestyle of their dead, and try to replicate it in the ofrendas, altars of diverse forms that contain various components to recall the existence of their loved ones on this world.

The ofrendas are decorated with colored papers that represent daily life scenes with skeletons as main characters. Flowers of cempasúchil and candles are added so the deceased can find the way home, or to gain ground to the darkness in the cemeteries, that are full of people visiting their relatives.

Food and beverages are the main elements: decorated skulls made out of sugar, chocolate or amaranto, cooked meals, local candies, mole, tequila, bread, mezcal and even cigarettes. Families also include the favorite and symbolic objects of the people they recall. Photos, clothes, books, musical instruments, letters, everything is valid to make them know they have always been there, that their trace in this world goes far beyond than their physical presence.

Such dedication has a very good reason. According to the indigenous vision of human existence, if death extends life, it is natural that those who are gone, come back once in a while to hang out with the living. Therefore, this rite transforms into a celebration. A celebration of the chance of being together again sharing a meal, remembering the life of those who are no longer here.

Likewise, a lot of families join to have dinner at home, to talk and share a laugh with those who they haven’t seen in a long time. This is how the Day of the Dead turns into a meeting place for the living, it becomes a party, an exchange of anecdotes, of memories. Life and death, past and present, everything merges in a single moment.




Adrian has estudied and worked in Mexico and France.

He strongly believes that diversity is the path to development 

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