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El Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead

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Skeletons for Day of the Dead
Credit: Sunsinger | Fotolia
Maria and Fernando Garibay Bloggers at Expats In Mexico
Maria and Fernando Garibay

El Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, begins each year on November 2. Our tradition to honor the dead is one of the most celebrated cultural traditions in all of México. It is the time we take to honor and remember our faithful departed. We show our respect to our loved ones and we wish them a good afterlife.

This tradition is so full of color, festivities, decorations, feelings, laughter, tears and much more. All are present when we visit the dead, and enjoy with them one more time all of their yearning for those things they left behind in the material world.

Credit: Harriet Murray
Credit: Harriet Murray

We offer them an altar, for example. It doesn’t matter how small or big it is, as long as it includes some or all of the following items: their favorite food and bread, a bottle of their favorite wine, pictures of them and even some of their clothes. Musical instruments or any other item they used in life is also included. Everything is decorated with flowers, sugar skulls, candles and all kinds of dolls representing the death in a great variety of forms and colors.

The most typical flower for this purpose is the beautiful orange flor de cempasúchil, or Mexican marigold. Its name in the Nahuatl language means 20 petals. This flower blossoms after the rainy season in Mexico, which happens to be exactly the same day as el día de muertos. You can see fields full of this orange flower in early November. That is one of the reasons why the Aztecs used this flower to honor their dead with this singular flower at this time of year. Its orange color brings brightness and a cheerful welcome to those who left before us.

During this time, the graveyards become a spectacular scene with mariachi included to play a couple of their favorite songs. The bread is also very special; it is called pan de muerto, which is very delicious and made only at this time of year.

Part of the tradition, also, is to celebrate the dead in a very special way, by making fun of death to give it less importance and power, which helps disguise our fear of it. However, we do it respectfully and wittily in a rhyme called Calavera. This satirical and popular rhyme tells the story of living people, with no respect for social status, politics or Ecclesiastes. It’s even considered an honor to do it for someone or have someone do it for you.

It is common to make the Calavera out of popular characters, famous people or politicians. If you are in one of these Calaveras, you should feel honored. Calaveras are very special poems for the dead on their day.

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