First time attending a Day of the Dead Celebration? Confused about the difference between Day of the Dead and Halloween? Esta bien. Check out these top 5 things to help you understand this festive Mexican holiday. ¡Disfrutar!
1. A SHORT HISTORY OF DAY OF THE DEAD
The Día de los Muertos originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth.
Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts. It takes place on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Observance of the holiday in Mexican-American communities in the United States has become more important and widespread as the community grows numerically and economically.
Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People will go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and will build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, and photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.
3. WHAT'S UP WITH ALL THE SKELETONS?
During Day of the Dead, life-size papier-mâché skeletons and miniature plastic or clay skeletons are everywhere. Why? Mexicans honor their ancestors on Day of the Dead, but they're also reminding themselves that death is just a part of life. Hanging out with skeletons reminds people that one day they will be skeletons. The skeletons are often posed doing all sorts of everyday things, such as playing guitar, taking a bath, or making tortillas.
4. WHO IS LA CATRINA?
The La Catrina/El Catrin has also become one of the most recognized characters associated with Día de los Muertos . At Dia de los Muertos festivities throughout the Americas, we see more and more women, young and old, wearing fancy gowns and hats, and painting their faces to look like calaveras de azúcar, or sugar skulls. La Catrina has become the preeminent symbol of the afterlife and is la grand dame of all Dia de los Muertos festivities. But who is La Catrina?
In the early 20th century, Mexican political cartoonist and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada created an etching to accompany a literary calavera. Posada dressed his personification of death in fancy French garb and called it Calavera Garbancera, intending it as social commentary on Mexican society’s emulation of European sophistication. “Todos somos calaveras,” a quote commonly attributed to Posada, means “we are all skeletons.” Underneath all our manmade trappings, we are all the same. Today, La Catrina has grown to be much more than just a caricature of Mexican women denying their indigenous ancestry. Instead, she, and her male counterpart El Catrin, are now considered the faces of death in Mexico and in other parts of the world where Día de los Muertos is celebrated.
5. IT'S NOT A MEXICAN "HALLOWEEN"
While Halloween and Day of the Dead do share some common roots, they are totally different holidays. Rather than treating death as something dark and frightening, t he Day of the Dead is largely about laughing in the face of death, as represented by the ubiquitous calaveras and Catrinas, which are often depicted dancing or playing music. And though it is about remembering lost loved ones, the holiday is more a time to celebrate their memories than to mourn their loss.
We invite you to learn more about this festive Mexican tradition at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center 's Día de los Muertos Celebration on Saturday, October 27th from 11am-6pm. The event features traditional Mexican musical & dance performances, traditional food, a beer garden, and a variety of hands-on activities for the whole family. Plus a chance to win prizes in our Catrina dress-up contest! While at the event you may also experience a folk art exhibit of traditional altars and other art that is related to this significant and expressive Mexican holiday.