Every year, just after Halloween, a special celebration takes place in Mexico. It’s called Dia de Los Muertos, or – as we know it – ‘Day of the Dead’. But these festivities are far from spooky. Read on to find out more about the true meaning behind Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival…
On the 1st and 2nd of November, towns and cities across Mexico come alive with spectacular parades and unique rituals to honour the dead and welcome them into the mortal world for one night. In many cultures, death is seen as a pretty sombre topic, but in Mexico, it’s quite the opposite. Here, death isn’t seen as the end but, instead, a new beginning.
The origins of Dia de los Muertos
The history of Dia de Los Muertos stretches back thousands of years to Mesoamerican culture – way before the Spanish arrived in Latin America. At this time, the Aztec, Toltec and Nahua people believed that death was just a natural part of life’s cycle. And even mourning was considered disrespectful, as the dead were seen as very much part of the community.
Many believed that the souls of the dead wouldn’t actually die, but instead, they’d live in a place of rest. It was thought that, when a person died, they would begin their journey to the Land of the Dead (known as Chicuntamictlan) – but not before overcoming a series of challenges first.
To help the dead overcome these challenges on their travels, many rituals would be made; including the offering of food and tools. These customs inspired some of the modern-day rituals that are practiced as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations today.
When is the Day of the Dead celebrated?
Before the Spanish arrived, these celebrations took place during the summer months. But with the introduction of pagan beliefs, Dia de los Muertos was shifted back in the year to align with the Catholic festivals, All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve, which take place on the first two days of November.
Today, some celebrations in Mexico kick off from the 31st October. But the real party begins on the 1st of November, when the souls of children are honoured, and the 2nd of November, when the souls of adults are commemorated.