The most famous Mexican holiday involves history, symbols, and beliefs; the event is among the themes of the Latin American Heritage Month
By Marianne Bechara
Traditions are a great way of knowing a culture deeply. In Mexico, one of the most important events of all time is the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos or Día de los Muertos, in Spanish). This ancestral tradition occurs every November 2nd, and it is celebrated in the whole country – together with other places with a strong Mexican heritage.
The Day of the Dead is based on the belief that the souls of the deceased come back to rejoin their families. From October 28th, the festivities take place. On November 1st, the spirited children are the ones to be with their relatives again, and the day after is marked by the return of the adults. Throughout this whole period, the dead are remembered and honored, with parades, music, and altars inside the homes – ornamented with ofrendas/gifts (marigolds and other flowers, food, beverages, candles), photos, and personal items of the deceased. Since the dead remain in this world for only 24 hours, they can fairly eat, drink, dance, and be together with their beloved ones.
The origin of the Day of the Dead is related to the Indigenous peoples from Mexico, but the holiday also had the influence of the Spanish colonizers. During the pre-Hispanic times, the Indigenous communities used to conduct rituals to guide the souls of the deceased, as well as to praise them. In the case of the Aztecs, the transition of the spirits would be to Mictlan, the underworld in their mythology. For them, death was not a sad or unfortunate situation, but an intrinsic part of our existence.
When it comes to the Spanish influence, it mostly concerns the dates themselves. The Day of the Dead was synchronized with two occasions related to the Catholic Church: All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). In Europe, during this period, people used to add flowers and candles – as well as bring pan de ánimas (a type of bread) – to the graves, traditions that were transmitted by the colonizers to Mexico.
The bread as a food gift for the deceased was also part of the Aztecan rituals, and one of the main symbols of the Day of the Dead is pan de muerto. Besides being an ofrenda, this sweet delicacy is consumed by Mexicans during the event and the whole month of October. Chocolate and candy are also present in the festivities. The most traditional beverage of the holiday is called atole, a drink made of corn.
La Calavera Catrina
Skeletons and skulls are a definite part of the Day of the Dead, and these symbols assume many forms during the event. One of the holiday’s main icons is La Calavera Catrina, a female skull represented with make-up and extravagant clothes.
Translated as “The Elegant Skull”, this figure was created in 1910 by the artist José Guadalupe Posada, as a criticism of the fact that Mexicans were featuring European vestments, styles, and habits instead of valuing their own traditions. Although the origin of the character is not related to the Day of the Dead, La Calavera Catrina was later incorporated into the event.
Latin American Heritage Month
The Day of the Dead is so culturally and spiritually important that it transcends the borders of Mexico. The event is considered by UNESCO an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In Canada, many celebrations occur, considering the great representativeness of the Mexican community. Among the events that approach the theme there is the Latin American Heritage Month (LAHM). The festival promotes a series of activities to diffuse and celebrate different traditions of Latin American countries – from the theme above to the Brazilian carnival, for instance.
Conducted by Latincouver, the LAHM includes exhibitions, video mapping, online/in-person workshops, shows, and many other attractions. The fourth edition of the event will occur from October 14th to November 2nd, 2022, in different parts of British Columbia. The closing ceremony will be dedicated to the Day of the Dead, with live music, dance, and Mexican food. After all, this tradition is also about celebrating life.
For more information about the festival, visit https://www.latincouver.ca/LAHM/.
“¿Cómo celebra México el Día de Muertos?” (“How does Mexico celebrate the Day of the Dead?”):
“Day of the Dead”:
“Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos)”:
“Día de los Muertos” (“Day of the Dead”):
“Latin America Heritage Month (LAHM)”:
“O colorido Dia dos Mortos mexicano” (“The colorful Mexican Day of the Dead”):