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Celebrating Life and Death

Celebrating death takes on a whole different meaning in many countries across the world. The Day of the Dead, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day are deeply meaningful and, in some countries, joyous occasions.

DAY OF THE DEAD, 31 October

When is Day of the Dead Celebrated?

The tradition of celebrating Day of the Dead is a joyous event.  However, it is more than just a one-day celebration. In fact, it starts annually at midnight, 31st October when heaven’s gates are opened, and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours.

Day of the Dead wishes

To wish someone a “Happy Day of the Dead” you say in Spanish “Feliz día de los Muertos”.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated up to the 2nd of November inclusive, though other days, such as 6th November, may be included depending on the locality. Although associated with the Western Christian Allhallowtide observances of All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, it has a much less solemn tone and is portrayed as a holiday of joyful celebration rather than mourning.

The History of the Day of the Dead

Well, in short, it is a Mexican tradition since about 3,000 years ago to welcome back the spirit of deceased loved ones for a brief reunion. 

The Aztecs believed death is an integral, ever-present part of life. You would pass away and go to the Land of the Dead. Then you have nine levels to complete before your soul ends up in your final resting place.

However, today it is seen as an awareness of death as a positive and natural human experience. More so, to invite the spirit from our deceased loved ones into our homes and celebrate with them.

Who is Catrina?

Catrina (slang for “the rich”) features as the most recognized symbol of the Day of the Dead.

It all started out in 1947 when Diego Rivera (an artist) dressed Posada’s stylized skeleton in a large ladies hat. 

José Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator, and lithographer.

La Calavera Catrina Source Wikipedia
La Calavera Catrina (Source: Wikipedia)

Museo de la Katrina / Katrina Museum

I highly recommend that when you are in Saltillo you go and visit the museum located at Calle Ignacio Allende 720 A, Centro, 25000 Saltillo, Coah, Mexico. 

In my opinion you should allow about 30 minutes for the visit. You can ask for a guided tour of the small museum.

Photographer: Arina Janse van Rensburg

A brief history of modern celebrations

It is the renowned James Bond that brought Day of the Dead into the spotlight in 2015 with the movie Spectre. The movie featured a large parade to celebrate the Day of the Dead and so the seed was planted.

Mexico City had its first parade in 2016. Subsequently, other cities followed suit. For instance, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Fort Lauderdale.

Another blockbuster movie that featured the Day of the Dead was the animated hit Coco.

Associated cultural activities

Offerings during the Day of the Dead awareness

An important activity during the 2-day celebrations is to present the dead with offerings. For instance, on the 1st day, you place offerings on an altar for deceased children. Such as sweets and toys. Similarly, you place offerings on an altar for deceased adults. Such as alcohol, cigarettes, candles, marigolds (to guide their loved one’s soul back to the world of the living), sweet bread, and football shirts. Then in return, these offerings will encourage loved ones to return home, so they hear the prayers of those left behind.

What’s up with the costumes?

Part of the celebrations is to mimic the Calavera Catrina with fancy costumes and have your face artificially painted (with sugar skull makeup) to resemble skulls.

Some base their look around the deceased. 

Traditional food during the Day of the Dead celebrations

This is the time to dish up the favorite meals of your deceased loved one(s).  In addition, it is celebrated with food and drink.

A very popular bread is Pan de Muerto. In other words, the bread of the dead.

It is usually baked and enjoyed during the weeks leading up to the celebratory holiday event. However, originally it was eaten on the days of celebration.

Shaped in bones or decorated with bone-shaped pieces it symbolizes the circle of life and more precisely the deceased one. Part of the tradition is to have a baked tear drop on the Pan de Muerto to represent goddess Chīmalmā’s tears for the living. 

UNESCO awareness

In 2008 UNESCO recognized the holiday, traditionally celebrated in Mexico, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Is Day of the Dead celebrated outside Mexico?

Oh yes, it is celebrated in Belize, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and some states within the United States, such as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Day of the Dead Things to Do & sightseeing

Island Of Dolls (Isla de las Munecas) – Eerie Forest

The crazy uninhabited Mexican island of Xochimilco has eerie and roughed-up dolls hanging up on the trees! It almost looks like something from a horror movie!!  Dolls of various styles and colors are found throughout the island, originally placed by the former owner of the island, Julián Santana Barrera. He believed that dolls helped to chase away the spirit of a girl who drowned years ago.

Julián Santana Barrera passed away in 2001 from a heart attack, reportedly near the same place where the girl drowned.

Today, it’s a popular sightseeing destination during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico.

The island is a chinampa of the Laguna de Teshuilo and one of the main attractions of the channels. You’ll find the Island of the Dolls (La Isla de las Muñecas), in the channels of Xochimilco, south of the center of Mexico City, very close to the Estadio Azteca football stadium.

Island Of Dolls Isla de las Munecas – Spooky Forest uninhabited Mexican island of Xochimilco Mexico City min