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How is the festival of the dead celebrated in Mexico?


Absolutely in every culture there is a day of remembrance of the dead. However, if we have this time for memories and sorrow, then Mexican Day of the Dead is one of the most spectacular and fun events in the country. The holiday, which appeared back in the pre-Columbian era, survived the country's colonization and catholicization, united the fragmented post-revolutionary Mexico and, thanks to James Bond, became a mega-popular event attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists to the country.

When and where does it go

Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico, as well as in neighboring Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Salvador in early November. Celebrate it on the first day of the month. This date is called "Day of the Angels" when they recall the deceased children. November 2, the holiday continues: now they remember all the deceased relatives.

In northern, more Americanized areas of the country, festivities begin on October 31 on Halloween. At this time, it is customary to treat children with sweets, and the ritual is called “tricky-tricky” (from the English “treat-or-trick”). True, unlike Halloween, where the main emotion is fear of otherworldly forces, during Mexican Day of the Dead fun and joy reign.

In general, in Mexico, the holiday takes on a truly gigantic scale. Often the festival of the dead is accompanied by street festivities and parades. It is celebrated throughout the country, and in each region you can meet your own rituals. However, the most colorful events take place in the capital of the country - Mexico City. Here on the streets of the city they organize a huge carnival - the Katrina parade.

How did the Day of the Dead holiday come about and why is it so called

The tradition of the memory of the dead in South America is rooted in Native American culture. It appeared about 2500-3000 years ago. Local Mayan and Aztec tribes revered "death." To survive, they needed to hunt and kill animals, which means that according to their beliefs, death gave them life.

The Aztecs and Mayans considered the deceased relatives to be conductors between this and the other world, so they were buried next to houses, and skulls decorated houses. The Indians also had a celebration in honor of the goddess Miktlansiuatl, the guardian of the other world. She was traditionally portrayed as a woman with a skull instead of a face. Later, the main symbol of the holiday came from here - a female skeleton named Katrina, dressed in a rich dress.

In the story of the Mexican Day of the Dead, it is surprising that the tradition has survived to this day, even despite the colonization of South America and the conversion of Aboriginal people to Catholicism. All because the conquistadors arrived in every possible way encouraged the days of memory of the dead. Their only condition was - to do this not in August as before, but in November - on the Catholic Day of Remembrance of the departed.

True, until the beginning of the 20th century, Memorial Day of the Dead was almost never held in Mexico. Everything changed in the 1920s after the Mexican Revolution. Then a divided country had to somehow unite, create or revive national traditions, as well as perpetuate the memory of revolutionary heroes. The government decided to make Day of the Dead an official holiday and began to celebrate it magnificently, colorfully and on a large scale. Gradually, the festival became one of the most popular events in the country and began to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists.

Features and traditions of the celebration of Dia de los Muertos

Mexicans believe that after death, their relatives and friends go to another world. The only time they can visit their family in our world is November 2. The meeting with the spirits of the departed should be pleasant, yet they have come a long way from the other world. So this is the time for fun and celebration!

First of all, on Memorial Day of the Dead in Mexico, it is customary to go to the cemetery: look after the grave, decorate it with flowers and light candles. They come here with the whole family, arrange picnics, concerts and performances on the spot. That is why, over Mexican cemeteries, on Day of the Dead, music is heard everywhere and laughter spreads.

However, a visit to the cemetery does not end. The souls of the departed come to the houses where they once lived. That is why Mexicans arrange colorful altars here with flowers, candles and photographs of the deceased. Often they are also installed in business centers and other public places. Water must be placed on the altars to water the spirits after a long journey, they put sweet bread and the beloved's favorite food. Also, the altars are decorated with garlands of paper flags “papel picado”.

In large cities, residents wear colorful costumes for the Day of the Dead and take to the streets. On the faces they add complex makeup in the form of a skull mask. As a rule, images are prepared throughout the year, and in color they are not inferior to the Venetian and Brazilian carnivals. The most famous procession on Memorial Day takes place in Mexico City and is called the Catherine Parade. Catherine is a figurine of a richly dressed woman with a head in the form of a skull and part-time the main symbol of the festival.

10 interesting facts about the holiday

2. After the Mexican Revolution, the engraving with the skeleton in the women's dress was again remembered. This image has been widely used in the visual arts. Then he was called Katrina (La Catrina), which in Mexico at that time meant women who were too dressed up and boasting of their wealth. Katrina appeared in Diego Rivera’s painting “A Sunday Night Dream in Alameda Park”. Then she became a symbol of the Day of the Dead.

3. As for the Katrina parade, it began to take place in Mexico recently. The carnival owes its appearance to James Bond. In one of the episodes of the film “007: Spectrum”, which was released in 2015, James Bond appears at the Mexican carnival in honor of Day of the Dead. This event was completely invented by the scriptwriters, however, the Mexicans liked it so much that they began to hold a carnival every year!

4. The international community recognized the significance of the holiday: in 2003, UNESCO included the festival into the list of World Intangible Heritage Sites.

5. Skulls - the main symbol of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. This coloring is worn on the faces during carnivals and processions. Small candies in the shape of skulls are also made from sugar here and sold everywhere on the streets. In 2004, students at the National University even built a huge wall from such sugar figures, which was included in the Guinness Book of Records.

6. Orange marigolds - the main flowers on the Day of the Dead. According to Native American beliefs, they attract the souls of the dead. In ancient times, marigolds were cultivated in South America for religious purposes only. In Mexico, they are called only "flor de muerto", or the flowers of the dead.

7. Another symbol of Day of the Dead in Mexico is the sweet pan de muerto yeast bread (translated as “bread of the dead”). These buns are specially prepared for the holiday and left on the altars and graves.

8. Each Mexican region has its own tradition of celebration. For example, in the city of Oaxaca, the Las Calendas festival is held, when huge growth dolls take to the streets, and women dressed in national costumes dance in squares with baskets full of flowers.

9. The cutest tradition takes place in the town of Michoacan. Here, children participate in the Dance of the Little Old Men (La Danza de los Viejitos). Teenagers, grimaced as old people, slowly walk with a procession through the city and at one point begin to dance dashingly and fervently.

10. Well, the worst celebration of the Day of the Dead takes place in the town of Pomuch on the Yucatan Peninsula. Here, the dead are dug out of the graves, washed ashes and put it in small wooden caskets. Then these newly found urns with ashes are taken to special storage facilities. This tradition is associated with an acute shortage of land and the lack of a place for all the deceased in the cemetery.

When is the holiday?

They tried to fine-tune the ancient pagan holiday to the maximum under the Christian canon. Previously, it was celebrated in the 9th month of the Aztec calendar, but later moved to November 1-2. On this day, Catholics celebrate the Day of the Dead and All Saints Day. Sometimes the holiday of the dead in Mexico begins to be celebrated on October 31. Since this action has the status of a national holiday, state enterprises and schools do not work these days. The holiday is conditionally divided into the Day of Little Angels (November 1) and the Day of the Dead itself (November 2). On the first day, the deceased infants and children are revered, and on the second day, adults.

According to Mexican beliefs, the dead do not leave forever, but continue to live in the afterlife, which is called Miktlan. Therefore, death for them is the same holiday as birth. In fact, it is birth, but in a different guise. Mexicans believe that once a year the deceased come to their homes to visit relatives, do their favorite things and feel the charm of life.

In major cities in Mexico, the Day of the Dead begins to prepare in a few months. In educational institutions and all kinds of communities they make costumes, masks and life-size puppets. Musicians prepare for performances, altars are transformed, and flower companies receive large orders.

Altar and offerings

The symbolic door between the world of the living and the dead is considered an altar made of yellow marigolds. Altars are installed everywhere so that through them the souls of the deceased can get home. In recent years, they can be found even in schools, shops, restaurants, hospitals, on central streets and in other crowded places. Marigold in this regard is often called the flower of the dead.

Various gifts are placed at the altar: candles, toys, fruits, tamale (a national dish of cornmeal) and more. Mandatory attributes are water (the dead are thirsty after long journeys) and sweet "bread of the dead."

For the holiday, women prepare their deceased relative's favorite dishes and make the bed so that he can rest. Family and friends come together to happily meet the deceased.

Skulls and Skeletons

When the feast of the dead approaches, in Mexico everything is filled with its symbols - skulls, skeletons and coffins. On any counter you can find these attributes in the form of chocolates, figurines, key rings and other tinsel. In the windows they are often stacked in the form of pyramids, symbolizing the Aztec compasses. Tsompatl - a wall of skulls of defeated enemies, symbolizing the inextricable link between the living and the dead.

Skulls and skeletons on this holiday can be seen literally everywhere: on doors, walls, asphalt, clothes and even leather. If you are presented with a coffin with your name on the Day of the Dead, do not be offended - they wish you the best with all your heart. Such gifts are given to close and dear soul people.

"Calavera Katrina"

Another interesting symbol that boasts the national holiday of the dead in Mexico. It is a skeleton dressed in rich women's outfits with a wide-brimmed hat. The phrase "Calavera Katrina" literally translates as "Skull of Katrina." Often this symbol is called the "skull of a fashionista." Many locals believe that this is what the goddess of the dead looks like. But in reality, this symbol became known from the engraving of La Calavera de la Catrina in 1913, which was performed by the artist Jose Guadalupe Posad. So he wanted to illustrate that even the richest and most successful would one day be the victims of death. One way or another, the image of Katrina over time firmly entrenched in the status of one of the main symbols of such an event as the feast of the dead in Mexico. Makeup for women on this day often symbolizes the very Katrina.

Hike to the cemetery

On this holiday, in parking lots near the cemetery, it is almost impossible to find a free spot. Entire families come here to take care of the graves of relatives, strew them with bouquets of marigolds, decorate with candles, bring favorite dishes and drinks of the deceased. It also organizes picnics and dances to national music.

For Mexicans, an evening trip to the cemetery is not a sad event, but a real holiday. They meet with relatives here, have fun and just have a good time. Around each grave there is an idyll: men talk heartily, women set the table, elders tell amusing stories from the younger ones, children play, and no one is afraid of the day when death overtakes him.

Parade of the Dead

Sincere night gatherings in the cemetery are more common in small cities. In megacities, real carnivals are more often arranged. The festival of the dead in Mexico, whose photographs amaze at the level of organization, is held in a big way. The city, empty during the day, with the arrival of night is filled with orchestras. Classical and folk musical instruments create a colorful atmosphere, which, according to local residents, raises the dead from the grave. At least alive, she inspires dancing until the morning.

Huge groups of people form behind strolling orchestras. Most of them dress up in colorful dresses and paraphernalia, which is famous for the festival of the dead in Mexico. Masks that can be found in public on this day, mainly personify death. But all of them, as well as souvenir skulls, are endowed with a wide, sincere smile. The procession does not have a clear direction and schedule. Anyone can join it. The carnival captivates the whole city, but with the dawn of November 3, it fades for a whole year.

Regional differences

Just imagine: today in some cities, Day of the Dead overshadows Christmas in its scope. However, in each of the cities the holiday is celebrated in its own way and with a different scale. For example, in the city of Oaxaca de Juarez, the main event of the day is considered to be a carnival procession. Meanwhile, in the Valley of Mexico City, most resources are spent on decorating houses and altars.

In the city of Pomuch follow the traditions of pre-Columbian times. Here, the bodies of deceased relatives are exhumed annually and cleansed of flesh. In the area of ​​Tlahuak, ancient rural traditions are honored and magnificent celebrations are held in cemeteries. In Okotepek, sacrifices are carried out in huge numbers. And the roads from houses where people died in the last year are strewn with flower petals to the cemetery.

Halloween resemblance

The main holiday in Mexico, Day of the Dead, is held at approximately the same time as Halloween, and has a number of similarities with it. Both festivals originated in the early cultures and once, one way or another, mixed with the Christian faith. Day of the Dead, like Halloween, is based on the belief that the dead return to our world. The attributes of the holidays, completely reminiscent of death, also have common features.

However, there is a significant difference in these two events. Halloween symbolizes the fear of death. He is replete with characters with a negative reputation: witches, vampires, demons, zombies and so on. Halloween masks are worn so that evil creatures take people for their own and do no harm to them. On the Day of the Dead, the opposite is true - the dead are welcomed, and death is perceived as the birth of something new, bright and great.

Feast of the Dead in Mexico: Tattoo

Day of the Dead is so popular all over the world that even in the countries of the former CIS people get tattoos with its attributes. Most often on the body depict the very Calavera Katrina, which many consider the embodiment of the death goddess Miktlansiuatl.


Today we met with such an unusual holiday as the Mexican Day of the Dead. Definitely the philosophy of the Mexicans regarding death deserves attention and, at least, makes us think that perhaps our fear of death is greatly exaggerated. And the deceased, perhaps it would be much more pleasant to see smiles on the faces of their relatives, rather than grief.

Death is not the ending, but the beginning of a happy life

The attitude towards death among Mexicans is fundamentally different from that among Europeans. They believe that with the advent of death life does not end, but continues in another world full of happiness. Therefore, even the commemoration of the deceased is colored for people with fun: it is believed that it is on the Day of the Dead that the closest relatives are able to visit their families who remember them in this world.

About Mexican Day of the Dead - Holiday Story

The origins of this holiday lie in the religion of the original inhabitants of Mexico - the Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans and other peoples. Before the Europeans arrived on the continent, there were widespread practices of turning to the afterlife and raising the dead. The cult of ancestors, for example, was embodied in the fact that the skulls of deceased family members were stored in houses, they drank ritual drinks from them on special dates. In the summer, for a period of about 30 days, a series of bloody sacrifices set in, thanks to which the existence of our world should continue. The goddess Miktlansiuatl was considered the patroness of the deceased in another world.

The symbiosis of Catholicism and pagan rites

Barely confronted with these rites, the Spanish colonialists were astonished: in the eyes of true Christians, these pagans in their savagery did not even know how blasphemous they were! По мере завоевания земель и установления на них нового порядка началось и распространение католичества, однако новая религия не сумела на корню вытеснить предыдущую: вместо этого было положено начало необычному симбиозу. Да, жертвоприношения устранили, а длительность празднований сократили всего до пары дней - однако христианская скорбь о почивших не встала на место радости, как и крест не заменил собой ярких церемониальных черепов.

When is the day of the dead celebrated in Mexico?

According to established tradition, Mexicans celebrate "Day of the Dead" on November 1 and 2. The celebration covers the whole country from small to large. It is believed that these days the other world is opening its doors so that the deceased can meet the living ones waiting for them. That is why the deceased loved ones prepare delicious dishes, post their photos, decorate their homes with bright skulls - guides of the spirits of their ancestors. An integral part of the celebration is the image of Katrina: the skeleton of a woman dressed in a colorful dress and a wide-brimmed headdress. In it, in a transformed form, the death goddess Miktlansiuatl survived to this day.

Official holiday - no one works

But it is November 1 and 2 that are the dates of national celebrations at the official level: they are declared days off, state institutions do not work.

These two days have different meanings:

November 1 - "Day of the Little Angels" ("Día de Angelitos"), it is given to the bright remembrance of the deceased newborns and children in general.

November 2 - “Día de los Muertos” itself - the time for honoring deceased adults.

Souvenir skull

These days, tourists and guests are often given gifts: a crock or a coffin, where the name of the person being presented is written. It is necessary to perceive this as a gift from a pure soul, because they also give true friends, as well as relatives. Another unusual image is the pyramids of skulls, which the Aztecs called “compantli”: they were once built from the heads of the vanquished, and now they are part of the holiday and do not symbolize the threat.

How is the day of the dead celebrated in different cities of Mexico?

Over the past centuries, different traditions of this holiday have developed in different parts of Mexico. For example, in the city of Oaxaca de Juarez, the event reaches the scale of a carnival comparable to a Brazilian one. In the daytime, the streets are empty, while with the arrival of night, the singing of mariachi guitarists and wind instruments accompany the “dancing skeletons”. People in costumes of otherworldly creatures and tourists mingle in a carnival crowd: processions are organized without any plan, here and there. Anyone can join this colorful mess and wander until dawn on November 3.

A holiday that was more exotic, even by the standards of Mexicans, was acquired in Pomuch. Locals are much less influenced by Catholicism, so they are closer to the authentic traditions of the Aztecs. When the Day of the Dead arrives, they dig up what remains of the deceased loved ones, cleanse the bones of the layer of flesh, or polish the bones processed in past years. For this reason, especially sensitive guests from other countries are not advised to visit local cemeteries on the eve of the holiday.

Long preparations for the celebration of the day of the dead

Long before the start of the holiday, schoolchildren, students and just volunteers begin preparation: they make skeleton costumes, masks, dolls to the height of a person, musicians rehearse, and artists plan how to decorate the altars.

Decoration of the altars itself begins before the holiday, because it requires fresh flowers: the familiar yellow-orange marigolds. In Mexico they are called the “flower of the dead" - they help to open the passage between the worlds through which the deceased and will go back to our world. Altars of this type are installed in all homes, supermarkets, cafes, public places, etc. On the eve of the holiday, in addition to flowers, they place different fruits, burning candles, tamale (special Mexican food), toys (in memory of children), alcohol (in memory of adults). A necessary component is water: the Mexican belief says that the transition to our world takes away a lot of souls, which they can restore only with plain water and a special sweet "bread for the dead."

In the dwellings, they prepare food loved by the deceased during their lifetime, and also make the bed: it is believed that the arrived spirit will rest on it. Families and relatives gather in homes with a joyful mood and expectation of a meeting.

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The day of the dead began to be celebrated in the territory of modern Mexico by ancient peoples, such as the Olmecs and Mayans. According to scientists, the rituals associated with the veneration of the dead, were noted even 2500-3000 years ago. In the period before the Spanish colonization, local residents often kept real skulls of the dead in their homes - as a kind of heirloom, they were often shown during various rituals, they had to symbolize death and resurrection.

During the Aztec Empire, a holiday similar to the Day of the Dead was celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, which falls on modern August. The Aztecs celebrated this holiday for a month, during which the goddess Miktlansiuatl, the goddess of death, was worshiped. In modern mythology, the symbol of Katrina corresponds to this goddess. In many areas of Mexico, this holiday is celebrated for two days: on November 1, they honor deceased children and infants, which is also called the Day of the Angels (Spanish. Día de los angelitos ), November 2, on the Day of the Dead (Spanish Día de los Difuntos ), worship all the adult dead.

Many of those who celebrate this holiday believe that on the Day of the Dead, the souls of the dead can visit living relatives and friends. On this day, people visit cemeteries to mingle with the souls of the dead, build altars with photographs and relics on the graves, bring their favorite drinks and food to the dead. All this is done in order to induce the soul of the deceased to visit the living. Sometimes the celebrations become cheerful when relatives of the deceased recall funny or funny facts from the life of the deceased at the tombstone.

The celebration of the Day of the Dead in different regions has its own differences. As a rule, they prepare for the holiday throughout the whole year, when little by little they collect things that should be on the altar of the deceased. During the celebration of November 1 and 2, relatives decorate the graves of the dead with flowers and fruits. Very often, special flowers are used in jewelry on graves - orange marigolds, which according to beliefs attract the souls of the dead. In Mexico, these flowers are called "flowers of the dead" (Spanish. Flor de muerto ) On Angels Day, they bring toys for children and sweets. For adults, tequila, beer and other alcoholic drinks are most often brought.

In Madrid, the Mexican Altar of the Dead can be seen during the festivities at the Cervantes Institute, where teachers from Mexico have been building it for two years in a row.