Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dia de los Muertos

The pictures in this post were taken two years ago at Hollywood Forever Cemetery during their celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated in Mexico and around the world in other cultures.  The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember those who have died.  It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where the day is a bank holiday.  The celebration takes place on November 1 and 2,  in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  Traditions connected with the holiday including building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and vising graves with these as gifts.  They also have possessions of the deceased.

The origin of Dia de los Muertos is traced to indigenous observations dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictiecachhuatl.

The Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico can be traced back to a pre-Columbian past.  rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors had been observed for a long as 2500-3000 years.  In the pre-Hispanic era skulls were kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of Augst and was celebrated for an entire month.  The festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the "Lady of the Dead".

In most regions of Mexico, November 1 is to honor children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2.

The visit to the cemeteries is to encourage visits by the souls, so the soulds will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them.  Celebrations can take a humorous tone as people remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.  

Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead.  During the three day period, families usually clean and decorate graves, visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate the graves with offerings which include orange Mexican marigolds.  These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.  

Toys are brought for dead children and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole are brought for adults.  Families will offer trinkets or the deceased favorite candies on the grave.  Offerings are put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkins, pan de muerto, sugar skulls and beverages.  The offerings are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased.  Pillows and blankets are left out so the deceased can rest after their long journey.

Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings and government offices usually have at least a small altar as the holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull, which in Spanish is calavera.  The celebrants represent the skull in masks and foods, such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead.  Sugar skulls  as gifts can be given to both the living and the dead.  Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, which is a sweet egg bread made in various shapes from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

Jose Guadalupe Posada created a famous print of a figure he called La Calavera Catrina("The Elegant Skull") as a parody of a Mexican upper class female.  Posada's striking image of a costumed female with a skeleton face has become associated with the Day of the Dead and Catrina figures often are a prominent part in modern Day of the Dead Observances.

In some parts of Mexico; especially the cities, were in recent years other customs have been displaced, children in costumes roam the streets knocking on doors for a small gift of candles or money.  The children also ask passerbys.  This recent custom is similar to our Halloween trick or treating.

Some people believe possessing Day of the Dead items can bring good luck.

In the Southern California area, there are celebrations of Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Olvera Street and Old Town in San Diego.  I am sure there are others, but these are the ones I have been to and know about.

Dia de los Muertos in San Diego!

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