Monday, October 30, 2017

DAY OF THE DEAD (DIA DE LOS MUERTOS) 2017




Welcome to Mexico and Beyond: Laura's Photo Journey and my annual visit to the Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos) celebrations of 2017 in Mexico. Without a doubt, this annual tradition is one I especially look forward to and I never tire of it's colorful pageantry.  I have created a new photograph album for this posting which includes photos from San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Mexico City.



And for those of you who love the tradition and imagery as much as I do I have also included the links to my three previous Day of Dead posts for 2014, 2015, and 2016 which you will find at the end of this posting.  It's as simple as clicking on the links to revisit my previous posts which will also give you more background information on this very special and traditional national holiday.


The origins of the tradition of Day of the Dead predate the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. The belief behind Day of the Dead practises is that spirits return to the world of the living for one day of the year to be with their families. It is believed that the spirits of babies and children who have died (called angelitos "little angels") arrive on October 31st at midnight spending an entire day with their families and then leave. Adults come the following days on November 1st and 2nd.

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a celebration of life which honors friends and family who have died. It's not a gloomy or morbid occasion. Rather it is a festive and colorful holiday celebrating the lives of those who have passed on. Mexicans visit cemeteries, decorate the graves and spend time there, in the presence of their deceased friends and family members.  They also make elaborately decorated altars (called ofrendas) in their homes to welcome the spirits.


Because of its importance as a defining aspect of Mexican culture and the unique aspects of the celebration which have been passed down through generations, Mexico's indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead was recognized by UNESCO as part of the their Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.


One of the most important aspects of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico is an altar or shrine which is called an ofrenda. The term "ofrenda" translates from Spanish to "offerings" or "gifts" in English. Ofrendas are small altars or shrines in remembrance of deceased loved ones which are decorated with photographs, keepsakes, and favorite foods and libations of the deceased. It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit the living during the celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).


Local families will plan for Day of the Dead celebrations days, weeks, or even a whole year in advance. A focal point of the remembrance ritual is families creating ofrendas which are altars with offerings to the deceased. They may be set up in homes, or public spaces like parks or plazas, and also at local cemeteries where family members are buried.  These colorful altars are a personal expression of love towards one’s family members now deceased and are not for worshiping, but instead for the purpose of remembrance and celebration of a life lived.


A common format for an ofrenda contains three levels or tiers. The topmost tier identifies the dead person who is being invited to the altar, frequently with photos of the deceased, along with images of various saints, statuettes of the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, etc. which are positioned in a retablo (altarpiece) which forms the back of the altar.


The second tier will contain the ofrendas (offerings):  toys for deceased children and bottles of tequila, mezcal, or atole for deceased adults. Personal ornaments and the deceased’s favorite food or confection will also be present here as will the traditional Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead).


On the second tier are things placed to encourage the dead to feel at home and welcome: the deceased person's favorite food items might go here, including such things as mole, candy, pan dulce, and especially a sweet bread called pan de muerto. For deceased adults, the ofrenda might include a bottle or poured shot glasses of tequila or mezcal while if the deceased is a child here might be placed a favorite toy.





The third, or lowest, tier will feature lit candles.  Some may also have a washbasin and a towel so that the spirits of the deceased may refresh themselves upon arrival at the altar.


 Every altar will feature calaveras, decorated candied skulls made from sugar, as well as the bright orange marigolds or cempazuchitl which are sometimes called Flor de Muerto (Flower of the Dead).


It is believed that marigold flowers guide the deceased spirits to their altars using their vibrant colors and scent. The marigold most commonly used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations is the African Marigold which is otherwise known as the cempasĂșchil or Flower of the Dead.



I believe that music can soothe the soul whether in the here and now or for the departed.  And what could be more lovely than serenading departed ones in the cemetery.




If you ever visit Mexico during the Day of Dead celebrations (October 31st through November 2nd) be prepared for a special and wonderful experience.  In the meantime, please enjoy my most recent photograph album for this blog postings at the following link:

 MEXICO AND BEYOND: DAY OF THE DEAD ALTARS 2017

The following links will also  take you to my previously published Day of the Dead blog postings.  I hope you enjoy and I look forward to seeing you again in the near future!  Laura

4 comments:

  1. What a sweet and thoughtful holiday and celebration of those who have passed. Thanks for the education about the history of this tradition in Mexico!

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    1. Gracias!Even with the influence of Halloween which the younger generation has embraced it is still traditional and wonderful.

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  2. Particularly poignant tell me this year, but no less wonderful. As always you do a fantastic job.

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    1. You are my inspiration, Vicki, which I cannot repeat enough. My love and sympathy are with you during this period of grief. I know you will be fine with time and Norman will continue being proud of you.

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