Dias De Muertos also known as Dia de los Muertos is a day of celebration which happens every November 1st. A day where family and friends come together to remember their loved ones who have passed away. Celebrating with music and dancing, dressing up in costumes, and painting their faces to commemorate the dead. Families cook many kinds of food allowing everyone to feast and as an offering to the dead. The petals of the marigold flowers are spread all around the mantel with the pictures of those who have passed and it is believed that it is guiding the souls to find their way home. A common reference related to this celebration is the “Day of the Dead”. This celebration has become more popular since Disney created a movie to recognize and embrace the culture and its importance. Part of this tradition is celebrating it with the relatives who have passed as if they were present and the same way they would celebrate when they were still alive. This celebration is all about having fun and never sad or scary.
Aztec and Christianity
Dias de los Muertos is a festival influenced by the indigenous Aztecs customs and Catholicism brought by Spanish conquistadores in the region. This celebration is similar to the Catholic calendar holiday “All Souls Day and All Saints Day”. There have been many comparisons of the Aztec and Christian religion since the mid-16th century when Spanish conquistadors forced the conversion of Aztecs to Christianity. The two religions have many similarities including celebrating the symbol of the cross, ideas of a sacred mother, and the commitment to baptism and confession (Hammond, K). The cross icon is the most similar symbol celebrated by both the Aztec and Christian religion, however, the styles of each cross were different. Christians associated it with the New Testament while the Aztecs use the cross to symbolize their rain god (Hammond, K). The Aztec legends, creation of mankind, and origins of the Aztec tribe tie directly into reasons for human sacrifice. The main points in these legends is that the gods sacrificed for humans; thus, humans must sacrifice for the gods (Baumann, A).
Celebration in Mexico and the United States
Dia de los Muertos has made its popularity from Mexico into the United States. The meaning behind the celebration, day of the dead, is the same; however, the way each country celebrates varies in a few ways. Both countries celebrate on November first and second, which is known as “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”. Decades ago, day of the dead was portrayed to be more traditional and religious whereas now, especially in the United States, it was more commercialized, and as a time for party and used as a “theme”. During dia de los Muertos, people are dressing up as sugar skulls for Halloween or having day of the dead parties, solely for the sake of having a party. Finding this is not completely foreign in Mexico, but more people celebrate it for its traditional meaning which is remembering and connecting with their loved ones who have passed. Regardless of where or how it is celebrated, it is about remembering our loved ones and this is what matters most and it keeps their souls alive.
Music is a very important component in the celebration of Dias De Los Muertos. The songs are typically upbeat and lively since the holiday celebrates memorable moments lived rather than mourning and grieving loss. The music presented is a mix of traditional Mexican, Mariachi, and Latin American root music that speaks of traditional folklore and death itself (Bruner, 2010). For example, one common song that is played is “La Llorona” which is sung by a variety of artists including Joan Baez and Angela Aguilar (Bigurra, 2016). La Llorona, or The Weeping Woman, is a common legend of Mexico. It is said that her spirit weeps for her dead children in the river, and those who hear her cries will be cursed with misfortune. Another popular song that is played is “Viene la Muerte Echando Raero” sung by Lila Downs (Bigurra, 2016). This song speaks on how death is universal and is something that is experienced by everyone (Bruner, 2010). The music played during Dia De Los Muertos is use to keep spirits up and to keep legacies alive. It fills the streets and is sung by those young and old. They tell stories, they tell the truth, and most importantly they tell us about others’ lives.
Skulls and Make-up
Skulls are a significant component of the Dias de los Muertos celebration. It represents death and afterlife. Skulls are artfully painted on faces to represent an expression of themselves as an art and their connection to their deceased loved ones. It helps the living connect with the dead and embraces the spirits with open arms. Skulls made from sugar and are often placed on an Ofrenda or altar. Originating in the era of the Spanish Conquest, sugar was very accessible and cheaply obtained; thus, easily used to make sugar skulls. (Renteria, 2018) The skulls change in sizes depending on how old the person was when they passed. Skulls and the makeup are used and decorated craftily with various bright colors to give the celebration a beautiful and fun theme.
During the day of dead, it is customary for the women to wear long Mexican traditional dresses with floral prints and paired with elaborately made colorful floral headpieces. The men wear smart and fine clothing paired with black hats. Day of the Dead is an extremely social holiday that spills into streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night. Dressing up as skeletons is part of the fun. People of all ages have their faces artfully painted to resemble skulls, and, mimicking the Calavera Catrina, they don suits and fancy dresses. Many revelers wear shells or other noisemakers to amp up the excitement—and also possibly to rouse the dead and keep them close during the fun.
Altar and Food
Days before the celebration of Dias des Muertos, families meticulously clean their house and prepare the Ofrenda or altar. The Ofrenda is a table covered with a white table cloth where an abundance of food and an assortment of fruits are placed. Pictures of ancestors, saints and a crucifix are also placed lovingly on the table and is decorated with countless flowers, especially the Marigold, to symbolize the fragility of life (Herz, M., 2017). Salt and water, symbolizing the life’s purity, is available to quench the thirst of visiting souls from their long journey. Families prepare an abundance of favored foods of deceased loved ones. These dishes are prepared not for consumption but for guidance, as it is believed the aroma of the food will help guide the souls back home to the house. During the Dias de Muertos celebration, the Ofrenda is a big part of honoring and cherishing the memories of those no longer with us.
Comparison of the movie “COCO” and the actual celebration
The movie “Coco” have many similarities to the actual celebration since it was based on the actual Day of the Dead celebration. The movie is a good representation of the way the Mexicans perceived death as a transition rather than fear it, whereas in other cultures, people tend to fear the word “death”. Calaveras, or the skeletons, were presented and commemorated both in the movie and the actual festival and the word “Coco” actually means “skull” in Spanish and Portuguese. The movie portrayed how the tradition is celebrated and the importance of family and heritage within the Hispanic culture. There were scenes in the movie invented to create an easier visualization of the afterlife fantasy as fun and colorful. Another scene in the movie portrayed the magical mythical creature, Pepita an alebrije, a sort of a spiritual guide. In real life an alebrije is made of whimsical carvings or carved paper maché of objects, people, imaginary creatures, animals, and is painted in bright vibrant colors. (Vance, 2018) In Mexico the petals of the marigold flowers are believed to guide the sprits home to their living family on the Day of the Dead and was also used in the movie as a key to transport Miguel between the realms of the living and the dead. Traditional music, instruments, costumes, customs, and famous figures in Mexico were included in the movie that symbolizes the trademark of the Mexican culture.
If there were any chances to spiritually feel, embrace, and connect with those dearest to us once again after they have passed, Dias De Los Muertos would be that day. The two-day celebration is a very exceptional festival that you do not want to miss during that time of year. Families spend hours, even days, in preparations, and hard work in cooking and decorating nonetheless, the overall experience is memorable and so well worth it. People gather together despite differences in religion, customs, and beliefs. Families blend in with the dead behind skull masks, face paintings, and dress up in their fanciest costumes because the afterlife is just as real as life itself. Food and music are found at every turn keeping the crowd, living and dead, alive, cheerful, and satisfied. Death is natural, accepted, and welcomed on this one-time event of the year where it is not all as scary as its perceived reputation. Although celebrated in different places, ways, and style, whether it be Dias De Los Muertos or Dia de Muertos, the meaning will always be the same and that is to remember “The Day of The Dead.”
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