Día de los Muertos
Day of the Dead
Día de los Muertos or Day of the
Dead, is also known as Fiesta de los Muertos. It is a holiday (or festival)
which is celebrated in México, Central and South America, and in some areas
of the United States, especially, the southwest.
This holiday originates with the indigenous native pre-Hispanic peoples
of México. These early people believed that the souls of the dead return
each year to visit with their living relatives. When the Spaniards arrived
in the early fifteen hundreds, they found well established native religions.
The Aztec people held rituals that included the use of skulls. To the Aztec, skulls were
used to symbolize death and rebirth. The Spanish priests perceived the rituals to
be barbaric and pagan. The priests made an extreme attempt to assimilated
indigenous people into the Catholic Church. Assimilation occasionally
proved difficult when these people already had their own holy days.
The Aztec ritual was originally held in summer during the Aztec month of
Miccailhuitontli, approximately corresponds to 24 July through 12 August.
The Catholic Church moved the
ritual to the beginning of November to coincide with two Catholic holidays,
All Saints Day, a Christian Feast that honors and remembers all Christian
saints, kept on the first of November, and All Souls Day, the commemoration of
all the faithful departed, celebrated on the second of November.
The early Spaniards merged the ritual within the two Catholic holidays,
in the hopes that Día de los Muertos would disappear forever. What
has happened is that the traditional native holiday has become intermixed with
the Catholic tradition but still exists.
Today, in many Méxican localities the first of November is the day for
remembrance of deceased infants
and children, often referred to as Día de los Angelitos
or day of little angels. Those who have died as adults are
honored on the second of November.
The Día de los Muertos fiesta varies somewhat by region
and by degree of urbanization.
In rural Mexico, people visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are interred.
Home altars also take a major part in
the festival. It is believed that the souls of the departed are
attracted to the home altars made beautiful with flowers, baked goods,
candies, fruits, and religious figures.
The festivals are decorated with calaveras or skulls, animated figures
or skeletons, and yellow-orange zempasuchils or marigolds.