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Why Day of the Dead is not ‘Mexican Halloween’

by ace
Day of the Dead

Muertos Day – or Day of the Dead – is not Mexican Halloween. There are some clothes, skeletons and it happens around Halloween, but no.

The holiday, stemming from pre-Columbian Mesoamerican rituals in southern Mexico, brings together observers to celebrate and honor the lives of dead family and friends.

Between October 31 and November 2, streets, houses, and public spaces in Mexican towns and cities are lined with colorful and intricate garlands (or banners) made of paper and flowers. During parades and festivals, observers dress in macabre yet colorful skeleton-like paintings and costumes.

El Día de los Muertos – on November 2 – is the culmination of a series of celebrations, with some of the days specifically honoring people who died in suicide as children or in accidents.

"(The last day) turns out to be a party with families who spend time in the cemetery on their loved ones' tombstones," Berenice Villagomez, coordinator of Latin American Studies at the University of Toronto, told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview. .

Earlier in the day, observers create offenses – or altars – as collective memorials full of portraits of those who died, sweet bread, candles, and dishes they have enjoyed in their lives. Villagomez explained that different regions highlight their own meals.

Observers believe that during this part of the year, loved ones may return from Chicunamictlán – the land of the dead – because the boundary between the real and the spiritual world disappears.


A man organizes skeletons at an altar of the Day of the Dead in Mexico City on October 31, 2017 (AP / Rebecca Blackwell)

The offenses – usually installed in people's homes or graves – contain items to "welcome them back to earth," Scarlet Munoz Ramirez, professor of history at Regina University, said in a telephone interview. "(They are made by) people trying to get closer to their dead loved ones."

Marigold flower petals are believed to help guide the dead, with bottles of tequila and Atole (a traditional corn-based drink) being offered as a way to guide loved ones to the land of the dead.

Ramirez, a specialist in Mexican colonial history, notes that the offenses are typically a mixture of indigenous and Catholic symbols, such as Virgin Mary statues and crucifixes.

In parts of Latin America, Día de los Muertos is marked by families reminiscent of the dead with grave picnics, all-night vigils, and prayer meetings.

"I feel very happy to see that this is more common – especially when people learn about the past," said Ramirez.


Day of the Dead

People pass under an arch made of a skull sculpture in Chapultepec, Mexico, on October 31, 2019. (AP Photo / Marco Ugarte)

Some of the oldest origins of the tradition date back to 2,000- to 3,000-year-old rituals honoring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

The Aztecs of Nahau and Mexicas – who also incorporated the customs of other regional indigenous groups – believed that death was part of the cyclical view of the universe.

Villagomez explains that the natives believed that the dead went to the land of the dead, but spent years reaching the resting place. She notes that the rituals originally took place in August and celebrated the Aztec goddess of the underworld, Mictecacíhuatl.

Living family members left water and food to help the dead reach their final resting place – which inspired contemporary offenses.

Then, when the Spanish settlers arrived in the region, they held Catholic holidays of All Saints 'Day and Souls' Day, celebrated in the first two days of November. "(Day of the Dead) has been moved to correspond more closely to those days," explained Villagomez.

During these days, believers covered graves with candles and flowers to call the dead back to the living. Since November 1, it has become the day to honor dead children, with November 2, the day when families go to cemeteries and clean the tombstones of loved ones.

The & # 39; COCO & # 39; DA DISNEY & # 39; & # 39; SPECTER & # 39; OWNED VACATION TO START


This image released by Disney-Pixar shows a scene from the animated movie "Coco". (Disney-Pixar via AP)

Traditionally, Day of the Dead was typically celebrated only in the rural and indigenous areas of southern Mexico, but by the late 20th century – the 1980s – it began to spread to other cities.

In 2008, UNESCO added the "indigenous festival dedicated to the dead”To his list of the so-called Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

But Villagomez pointed out that it was not necessarily celebrated as a national holiday until more recently. And a lot of it had to do with non-Mexicans watching.

Day of the Dead's iconography has been featured in non-Latin American pop culture, including the 2015 James Bond movie "Specter" and SYFY's short-lived TV show "Deadly Class".

The year after Bond's film, Mexico City held its first parade on Day of the Dead, Ramirez points out. In 2017, similar celebrations throughout the city were held in several US cities such as Los Angeles, San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

But undoubtedly one of the most important examples was the 2017 Academy Award-winning Disney movie, "Coco." The animated movie – inspired by Mexican celebrations and folk art – followed the story of a 12-year-old boy who accidentally got trapped in the Land of the Dead.

The film relies heavily on the Mayan tradition of the three deaths, including physical death, the body's detached soul, and living loved ones forgetting the dead.

"Both Specter and Coco indirectly brought the (Day of the Dead) tradition all over Mexico," said Villagomez. "They shaped the reception of (the holiday)."

She warned only against non-Mexicans adopting their costumes without looking at the meaning of the holiday. "Remembering your roots is never a bad thing – your ancestors and where you are from," she said. "But people must realize what it is."


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