Day of the Dead in Mexico. The Dia de Muertos, celebrated from October 31 to November 2, is one of the oldest Mexican celebrations.
On the 31st of October to 2nd November, people in Mexico gather together to celebrate the Day of the Dead or El Día de Muertos. Based on you impressions, a non-native might infer that this celebration is macabre, dark and mournful; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Day of the Dead is a characteristically upbeat and positive event in which Mexicans remember their relatives who have passed away and rejoice in the lives they led.
This Mexican tradition has existed since pre-Colombian times and the concept of celebrating death has long been a part of Latin American culture. Whilst it is customary in Western countries to attend a wake before the funeral and to visit the graves of loved ones, dealing with grief is approached more cheerfully in Mexican society through overt, and sometimes mocking, symbols of death.
In the final days of October, final preparations for the Day of the Dead fiesta get underway and the town squares fill with stalls displaying representations of death, including skulls made of sugar. By the first two days of November, the towns are decorated from top to bottom and the streets near cemeteries are adorned with torn paper, flowers, skeletons and skulls. Another Mexican custom linked to this festival, which can be witnessed as early as the beginning of October, is the eating of ‘Pan de Muerto’: delicious bread, made with the added ingredients of anise and orange peel, giving it a sumptuous flavor.
Mexicans believe that the spirits of departed relatives visit their families on 31st October and return from whence they came on 2nd November. There are variations in the way Mexicans prepare for and celebrate the Day of the Dead and different regions of the country often add their own unique touch to the proceedings. For example in Janitzio, the main island of Lake Patzcuaro located in the state of Michoacan, during the Day of the Dead festival a particularly mesmerizing spectacle is when the fishermen go out on the lake in the early hours of the morning, almost as if welcoming the spirits of the dead from across the water.
Artistic representations of this distinctive Mexican celebration are very popular in the international art sphere and can be witnessed in many galleries across the world. In the National Museum of Mexican Art, for example, the Day of the Dead is annually marked by an exhibition of colorful and flamboyant paintings depicting deathly figures and symbols; a frequently-recurring image is that of skulls and skeletons, often portrayed fully-clothed and partaking in celebratory activities such as drinking and dancing; reminiscent of the celebrations carried out by living relatives during the yearly national festival.
The notion that death is something which should be celebrated is not universally accepted, but it an important part of the culture of Mexico. The Day of the Dead continues to be one of the most prominent Mexican festivals, generating great curiosity from other nations and inspiring entrancing art works. Most importantly, this Mexican festival encourages people to question their perception of death and consider whether it is something which should be celebrated as well as mourned.