The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in its native Spanish, is a famous and culturally significant holiday primarily celebrated in Mexico and by Mexican communities around the world. Celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, it is a time to honor and remember deceased loved ones. Contrary to its name, the holiday is a happy occasion, celebrating the lives of those who have passed away.
It is known for its colorful altars, or ofrendas, that are decorated with marigolds, candles, sugar skulls and different traditional foods. Families come together to share stories and often visit cemeteries. The festivities are marked by a sense of unity and the belief that the spirits of the deceased return to spend time with the living.
Origins of Dia De Los Muertos
The origins of the Day of the Dead can be traced back a few thousand years to indigenous civilizations. Aztec, Maya and other pre-Columbian cultures held festivals dedicated to death and the afterlife, viewing it as a natural part of existence; however, the celebration itself may have originated on a whole other continent.
According to history, when Spanish explorers came to new lands in the 16th century, they brought their beliefs and traditions with them. In Europe, autumn was a season of pagan rituals characterized by bonfires, revelry and feasting. During this time, there were celebrations called All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which were dedicated to the dead.
These were celebrated with offerings of wine and spirit bread dedicated to loved ones who had passed away. Participants also put flowers on graves and light candles, thinking it would help spirits find their way back home.
The term Mesoamerican is used to describe a large cultural region with complex social and political structures. It’s characterized by shared religious beliefs, ideas about the universe, and ceremonies focused on death and what comes after (encyclopedia). This area was home to several closely connected civilizations, and their beliefs and practices had a significant impact on the way they lived and interacted. When mixed with Spanish traditions, Mesoamerican rituals evolved. While regional variations emerged, the core essence remained constant.
The Day of the Dead now stands as a testament to the enduring power of traditions, reflecting the rich history of different societies and their beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife.
We are fortunate to have people from all parts of the world within the AISB community, and in fact, there are members who are from Mexico. Diana Gonzalez, a Spanish teacher at AISB, joined our school three years ago and is originally from Mexico City.
According to her, the Day of the Dead is a beautiful celebration with many traditional elements such as ornaments, flowers and delicious foods. Since she now lives away from Mexico and is no longer surrounded by these traditions, her goal is to keep the celebration as vibrant and alive as possible. As an adult, she has taken personal ownership of the tradition; when she was a child, her environment provided her opportunities to participate.
“This is my favorite celebration, my favorite of all because it is a very good example of what Mexico is. Mexico is a mix of our Hispanic culture and also our native culture; this celebration is the perfect synchronism.” Diana Gonzalez
Day of the Dead at AISB
Though it is far from Mexico geographically, the celebration of the Day of the Dead can still hold special significance for AISB students.
Statista says that nearly 76% of Mexicans participate in this celebration; with AISB’s Mexican students and staff, this provides a unique opportunity for cultural exchange and understanding. It allows everyone to learn about, and appreciate, the rich traditions and beliefs in Mexican culture. This celebration fosters a sense of inclusivity, bridging the gap between different backgrounds and experiences.
If you are interested in learning more about the celebration there will be a Dia de los Muertos shrine in Muzeul National at Literaturi Romane that is worth looking at (MNLR).