Día de muertos

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DAY OF THE DEAD – CELEBRATING LIFE THROUGH DEATH 

Death is the only certain thing we have in life. However, the tradition of the Day of the Dead, beyond recognizing the pain of loss, emphasizes the importance of rejoicing and celebrating death as a way to get closer to our deceased.  

The day of the dead is a celebration where it is believed that the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead are blurred, and the dead can return to the world of the living where they can celebrate together. For this reason, the living visit the cemetery and decorate the tombs of their deceased loved ones, placing flowers, salt, water, candles, incense. Also, food and drinks that were enjoyed most by the deceased are placed by the tombs, and some even play music to make celebrate around the tombs.  

Some people also build an altar in their homes where they place photos of their deceased higher than those of the living. The purpose of all of these decorations is to u¿guide the spirits of the dead to the world of the living through the aroma of flowers and by candlelight, Afterwards, they all enjoy a party with food, drinks, and music in which both life and death are celebrated.  

 

The day of the dead takes place on November 1st and 2nd. On November 1st the souls of children are received and on the 2nd the soul of adults are celebrated.  

 

ORIGINS OF DAY OF THE DEAD 

The day of the dead is a celebration, and its origin comes from the pre-Hispanic era. During this period, the different types of indigenous groups of Mexico and Central America worshiped death. Among them were the Mexica culture whose gods oversaw the destiny of the souls, these gods were Mictecacíhuatl and Mictlantecuhtli. They were both men from Mictlán or “Place of the dead”. In fact, to be able to reach this place, souls had to overcome multiple obstacles to achieve eternal rest, in which the important thing was not death, but instead the cause of death. 

According to this, the Florentine Codex indicates that Mitctlan is divided by cause of death. For example, in the Tonatiuh Ichan-house of the sun, only warriors who died on the battlefield would be allowed in. another site was Cinclaco, home of the god Tonacatecutli, and only those who died as infants were allowed here because they were considered innocent. 

However, for the souls to be able to start their journey, the living were in charge of accompanying them from a distance through a ritual. This began with a death of a close one, the death is then announced with screams and cried emitted by the elderly women of the community. Then the dead was shrouded off with all their belongings. Later, the bundle or body Is symbolically fed with the most exquisite delicacies. 

After 4 days, the body is taken for burial or cremation. From that moment on, the soul undertook the difficult journey. Then, every year for 4 years ceremonies were held at the place where the ashes or body of the deceased were found. Thus, this ritual not only helps the souls rest but also provides the family members with a meaning grieving process. 

With the arrival of the European population, this ritual underwent a process of acculturation. The festival of the god of the underworld was joined together with the celebration of the deceased and the process was reinvented until it came to be how it is today. 

 

Day of the Dead: Offerings to the Dead 

Day of the Dead offerings are altars of pre-Hispanic origin. These were dedicated to different deities and placed on different dates. However, the one of the lord of the dead, Mictlantecuhtli, was celebrated in the month we now know as November. This coincidence was used by the evangelizers during the Colony to make a syncretism between Christianity and indigenous religious beliefs. 

Originally, the altars were laid a couple of days before November 1 and 2, that is, October 30 or 31 and remained until 3. Now, it is very common that, due to the creative effort invested in placing them, they are put in before and removed later. However, November 1 and 2 are still the main days. According to tradition, on these two dates all the souls who shed their bodies, that is, our deceased, visit us. 

 

 

Parts of an Ofrenda 

 

  1. Photographs of late family members.  
  1. It is very common to place portraits of loved ones who are no longer with us. 
  1. Incense or Copal 
  1. The smell of incense or copal smoke acts as the guide for our loved ones to find us again. 
  1. Candles 
  1. These represent fire and light. Just like incense, they work as a guide for souls. 
  1. The favourite drinks of the late loved ones and water 
  1. Drinks are placed for our late loves ones to drink and celebrate when they arrive in the world of the living. 
  1. Aztec Marigolds  
  1. This fluffy-looking flower is also known as the "twenty-petal flower." They are mainly used to decorate or create paths that guide the spirits of our loved ones. 
  1. Small skulls 
  1. In the past, ofrendas were decorated with real skulls. Now, they’ve been replaced with skulls made of sugar, chocolate or amaranth. Each skull represents a deceased loved one. 
  1. Bread of the dead  
  1. In addition to being delicious, the bread of the dead represents the skeleton of the deceased. 

 

MYTHS RELATED WITH THE DAY OF THE DEAD 

 

The legend of the Xoloitzcuintle, the Aztec dog 

  

The Xoloitzcuintle has been venerated since pre-Hispanic times, this is because the pre-Hispanic believed that these beautiful animals were guardians of the spirits, who guided the souls of the deceased along the long and difficult road through Mictlán, the city of the dead. 

  

The most important function believed to be performed by the Xoloitzcuintles was to help souls pass through a deep and plentiful river that crosses the land of the dead. 

  

If the living person had treated animals badly, especially dogs, the Xolo would refuse to help them pass, so they would perish and not be able to pass. However, if the person had treated dogs well when they were alive, the Xolo would gladly take the soul, put it on their back and carry it safely to the other side. 

  

The Xoloitzcuintles were not only valued in the spiritual world, but also when they were alive, because they were associated with Xolotl, the god of death, with whom they should be kind if they wanted to enjoy a grateful death without suffering. 

 

The cempasúchil flower 
 

The original name of the cempasúchil flower is sempôwalxôchitl and comes from the Aztec/Mexica language Nahuatl. "The word comes from two nouns: sempôwal, which means 20 (or many), and xôchitl(flower). Its literal English translation would be flower of 20. These flowers were used in the festivities of two Aztec feast days honouring the dead; their cheery and vibrant hues encourage celebrating life rather than harbouring resentment toward death. 

 
 

Legend says that Xóchitl and Huitzillin were in love since they were children, and in the afternoons they climbed the mountain dedicated to Tonatiuh, the Aztec God of sun, and offered him bouquets of flowers. However, one day the war broke loose and Huitzilin went to fight to defend the Aztec lands, and died. Broken by pain, Xóchitil asked the God Tonatiuh to free her of suffering and reunite her with her beloved. 

 
 

The god of the sun granted her wish and shone his rays on Xóchitl, and she was transformed into a shining yellow flower. Then, a hummingbird flew to the center of the flower and opened its 20 petals, releasing an intense aroma. Following Tonatiuh’s orders, the Aztec couple will stay there permanently as long as there are hummingbirds and cempasúchil flowers in the fields of Mexico.