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Day of the Dead

Halloween, a time when people can fool others by dressing up, has passed. The Day of the Dead is not like Halloween. For an example: People don't don costumes -- like Hillary going as Trump. Which one would she go as? Trump is a whole mix of multi-masks.

 The Day of the Dead is full of life and happiness remembering those who are no longer with us on this earthly plane. This complex holiday celebration is where death is seen as life. It is not a time of mourning since "the path back to the living world must not be made slippery by tears;" For "whatever pleased the dead in life they are to have again." It is a celebration when loved ones come together - both living and dead. This holiday festivity is believed to be a time for the departed to join the living in the celebrations of the "continuum of life."

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The Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500-3,000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.  

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, also known as the "Lady of the Dead." Her story is about her being dead when she was born.

 When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico 500 years ago, they considered the rituals to be blasphemous. They viewed the pre-Hispanic people as barbaric and pagan. So, in the Spaniards' attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the ritual was attempted to be vanished. However, they failed and the Day of the Dead rituals lived on. The celebration was moved to coincide it with All Souls' Day to arrange the ritual to have more traits in common with Catholic theology, although it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skulls.  

In most regions of Mexico, November 1st honors children and infants [Day of the Innocents, or Day of the Little Angels], whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2nd [Day of the Dead]. Veracruz [east-central coastal Mexican state] has a weeklong festival adding:

October 28 - For those who died suddenly in violent deaths;
October 29 - For those who were killed;
October 30 - For the unbaptized;
October 31 - For children who died after being baptized;
November 1- For people no one remembers;
November 2 - For all the faithful departed and saints.

 During this festive time, homemade ofrendas are found everywhere in the streets from schools to public buildings, and mostly in private homes. The word ofrenda means offering in Spanish. They are also called altares [altars], but they are not for worship. Some people mistakenly think that people are worshiping their defunct relatives. Nothing is further from the truth. Mexico is a very Catholic country. Ofrendas are to remember and honor the memory of their ancestors. It is believed that the departed spirits return to these special places for a visit during the festival.

 Yellow marigolds, the flowers that the Aztecs used, adorn these ofrendas with the thought that flowers are feelings that come from the heart. To give flowers, is to give something of the heart.

The piled offerings on the colorful altars represent the four elements:

 Food is earth, to attract and feed departed souls;
Water is provided to quench their thirst;
Papel Picaao [tissue paper cutouts] symbolizes the wind [air];
Candles with its flame [fire].
And if there was a fifth element, it would be flowers, since they are heart-felt, making it the greatest of gifts — love.

 In many homes, a glass of water is place next to the front and back doors. It is so that friendly spirits can have something to drink on their trip to the places they used to frequent when they were alive.

 Streets near and inside cemeteries are filled with decorations of papel picado, yellow marigolds, and parades of people. People gather at cemeteries for cleaning and decorating the grave sites, as well as socializing. People enjoy themselves by having music to play and dance to it.

 Although the skeleton is a strong symbol for both Halloween and Day of the Dead, the meaning is very different. For Day of the Dead, the skeleton represents the dead playfully mimicking the living and is not a macabre symbol at all. Skulls made of sugar are decorated with bright colors with the name of the deceased inscribed on it, unlike tonight's dinner where the skulls are being used as place settings for the living. Halloween is a foreign custom and looked upon as almost pagan. Far northern Mexico is where you might find children wearing masks and trick-or-treating to people's homes.

 Like Christmas is in the United States' homes varies from one household to another, so too is the Day of the Dead. In the southwest part of Mexico, in the state of Michoacan, is Lake Patzuaro. In this lake, the largest of the five islands is named Janitizo. Here, on this island, is one of the most spectacular celebrations of the Day of the Dead. At the crack of dawn, on the first of November, the Purepechan Indians initiate the festivities with a ceremonial duck hunt. At midnight, the cooked ducks and other edible delights are brought to the cemetery in the flickering light of thousands of candles. The praying women and the chanting men make a wonderful spectacle in the candle lit chilly night.

 Ironically, Day of the Dead brings cemeteries alive while United States' cemeteries are as quiet on Memorial Day as any other day. It is like the joke that United States' cemeteries have fences around them because people are dying to get in. The States hides cemeteries and only makes notice of them when there is a death. It is only for the dead in their tradition. While in Mexico, cemeteries are bought to life as they are surrounded by the busy streets, the playing of children, and of people passing by to shop or on their way to their employment. It is not shut out from life; It is part of it.

 The Day of the Dead is a lively, joyful, upbeat, and playful blowout. It is about as gay-full in gaiety one can get. It represents the Mexican spirit and tradition which is "Don't take anything lying down — even death."

Earlier Event: November 1
All Saints Day