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Day of the Dead: A Vibrant Celebration of Life and Death

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Get ready to delve into one of Mexico's most captivating and vibrant celebrations: the Day of the Dead! With deep roots in Mexico's pre-Hispanic history, this festival offers a unique perspective on the idea of death. It's a day to honor and remember our loved ones.

The Day of the Dead has its origins in the beliefs of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Aztecs, Mayans, and Olmecs. These cultures believed in life after death and viewed death as a natural part of the cycle of life. Rather than being a sorrowful event, death was an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the continuity of life.

The Aztecs or I should say Mexicas actually, believed in a place called Mictlán, the underworld. They made offerings of corn, vegetables, and water to honor the "Goddess of the Underworld," named Mictecacihuatl. These offerings were made during the harvest season.

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They also honored the spirits of their loved ones with objects, food, and water to assist them on their journey to the underworld, a challenging passage through nine levels to reach the final destination. Mictecacihuatl was tasked with watching over the bones of the dead!

Influence of Pre-Hispanic Cultures

In Mexico today, it's common to see sugar and chocolate skulls, marigold flowers, and pan de muerto. But do you know their origin?

The skulls have their roots in structures called "tzompantli," which were offerings for the God of War. Imagine seeing a pile of skulls! If you visit Mexico City, head to the Templo Mayor Museum. You'll be able to see these structures there.

Now, the cheerful skull symbolizes the respect and joy of remembering the loved ones who are no longer with us. When the Spaniards arrived in America, they were horrified by these traditions. They attempted to eradicate them, thinking they were pagan practices. However, they realized that these customs were deeply embedded in the local culture, so they decided to merge the celebration with All Saints' Day on November 1st and 2nd, a tradition brought from Europe.

Current Celebrations

The Day of the Dead holds significance across Mexico, with families visiting cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors, setting up colorful altars adorned with marigold flowers, photos, candles, and the deceased's favorite food and drink. It's a heartfelt homage to those who have passed, a blend of reverence and festivity that bridges the gap between life and death.

This year I came to Mexico City to see some of the activities they have here. I arrived yesterday and it has been an eye-opening experience; the city is a melting pot of cultural traditions. As I strolled along the bustling Francisco Madero street, I was taken aback by the colorful Halloween costumes. The streets were alive with an exciting mix of Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations.

Upon reaching the Zócalo, the heart of Mexico City, I was greeted by mesmerizing altars honoring figures such as Pancho Villa, a legendary leader during the Mexican Revolution. The altars were adorned with his photos and the things he cherished in life. It was a fascinating juxtaposition of old traditions and new, side by side in the heart of the city.

This harmonious fusion of Halloween and the Day of the Dead in Mexico City embodies the rich tapestry of Mexican culture, showcasing the beauty of honoring the departed and celebrating life's vibrancy in a single, unifying celebration.

Are you visiting Mexico City this year? Let me know in the comments!

¡Nos vemos pronto amigos!

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