DIA DE MUERTOS
‘DAY OF THE DEAD’
BY FRANCISCO MARIN
Around the world, many societies hold festivals to honor their ancestors, but there is one place where the event takes on a special magnitude and proportion. That place is Mexico – a 3,500-year-old civilization that is rich with a pre-colonization culture that survives until this very day.
During Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead – Mexicans get in touch with their ancestors and, more importantly, keep them alive. We believe that the dead only become truly dead once we forget about them.
It’s not that Mexicans fear death. We do. But we also embrace it. We understand that it is part of the circle of life, and although we may feel sad, we are happy at the same time. Yes, we miss our loved ones, but we know they are in a better place, free of the mundane concerns and tribulations among mortals. They are… They are at a higher level. That is why we celebrate.
We make the graves look like home. We decorate with flowers – especially the “flor de cempasuchil” (Mexican marigold flower). We bring our ancestors’ favorite food and play their favourite music at their grave sites, and families hold parties at the cemeteries. After nightfall, many people paint skulls on their faces and add other colors to make the dead look beautiful so that they can, at least temporarily, become one of them.
For some, Halloween and Día de Muertos are connected. But that’s not exactly true. During Halloween, children enjoy the day by dressing like monsters, the undead, or criminals and go out to get candy. There is nothing bad about this; they enjoy it! Many Mexican children also follow this US tradition and go ask for candy, breads, or money. But many others also keep their ancestral traditions alive – especially in towns where this culture is guarded with special care. Children learn the rituals from older generations and absorb the understanding and the responsibility to recognize their past and keep it alive.
There is much more that can be said about Dia de Muertos, but the best way to learn about it and to know what it means is to live it and enjoy it in its full glory. - Francisco Marin