We just celebrated Halloween. Trick-or-treaters with sharp fangs and claws enjoyed a night of spooky fun and sugar rush. Being such a playful holiday, it is hard not to share the spirit with our neighbors, so in Mexico too kids go out and ask for their Calaveritas dressed in costumes and without any real intentions of tricking you.
But then, on November 1st and 2nd we also celebrate Día de Muertos. Although the origins of the celebration of the Day of the Dead go back to pre-Hispanic times, it is celebrated now in connection to the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day. The idea is to remember our departed family and friends by setting up altars with offerings like their favorite food and memorabilia or personal objects for their souls to enjoy their visit to the world of the living during these two days. The first day is dedicated to the kids while the adults are honored on the second day.
The altars vary in style according to the region and local traditions, but in most of them cempasúchil flower will be found, as well as sugar skulls, cut-out paper with different designs and candles. They will go from small offerings at home to very big productions in public places, like the ones displayed at the Zócalo Square in Mexico City. Some people will take them to the actual cemeteries and will adorn the tombs of their loved ones while they spend the night eating and praying.
There are traditional places where the spectacle is expected every year such as Mixquic, near Mexico City, and the island of Janitzio in Michoacán. People from around the world travel to experience the impressive and beautiful ritual.
La Catrina, an elegant skull, was popularized by printmaker José Guadalupe Posada back in 1913 and has become a staple of Day of the Death expressed in different artistic designs. Another fun typical element are the Calaveras, short rhyming poems in “memory” of a person as if they were already deceased. Calaveras about public figures and politicians are often published in newspapers at this time to satirize or criticize them. More often, though, Mexicans come up with these playful rhymes to tease their friends or family members.
No celebration is complete without food. Again, although the traditional recipes will be as vast as the regions where the offerings are held, one of the most popular ones is Calabaza en Tacha, a pumpkin dessert prepared with cinnamon and piloncillo (dark sugar cones) and bakeries around the country sell Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead bread, decorated with strips of dough simulating bones).
Mexicans are known for our festive spirit and Día de Muertos reflects it perfectly. We celebrate life, we handcraft our traditions, we are believers and we love great food!
In 2008 the festivity was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2003) by UNESCO.