BY Charlene Lowe Kemp
Día de los Muertos
The day of the dead is a interesting holiday celebrated every year In central and southern Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. Even though this clashes with the Catholic holiday called All Soul’s & All Saint’s Day, people have combined this with their own ancient beliefs of honouring their passed loved ones.
It is believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.
In some Indian villages, beautiful alters (ofrendas) are made within each home. These are decorated with buckets of flowers, candles, mounds of fruit, peanuts, stacks of tortillas, plates of turkey and DAY-OF-THE-DEAD breads called pan de muerto. The alter itself is stacked with lots of foods, bottles of pop, hot chocolate and water for the weary spirits.
Toys and candles are left for the spirits of the children expected on the 1st and on 2nd cigarettes and shots of Mezcal are left for older spirts. Sugar skulls and little folk art skeletons are brought from markets and provide the alters with the final touches needed.
This is a extremely expensive holiday for those celebrating. Many save at least 2 months income to honour their dead relatives during this time and they believe that happy spirits will provide them with protection, good luck and wisdom.
Festivities are taken to the cemetery on the 2nd of November. During this day people will clean tombs, play cards, listen in to the village band and generally reminisce about their passed loved ones.
Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico and the Catholic world. Many countries such as Italy, Spain, South America and the Philippines all celebrate All Souls and All Saints Day on November 1st and 2nd. It is only in Central and Southern Mexico where the colourful parties take place in the cemeteries and elaborate ofrenda altars are built in the homes to honour specific family members who have passed on.
The Sugar Skull Tradition
Sugar art was brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century. The first Church mention of sugar art was from Palermo at Easter time when little sugar lambs and angels were made to adorn the side altars in the Catholic Church.
Mexico, abundant in sugar production and too poor to buy fancy imported European church decorations, learned quickly from the friars how to make sugar art for their religious festivals. Clay molded sugar figures of angels, sheep and sugar skulls go back to the Colonial Period 18th century. Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home ofrenda or gravestone to honour the return of a particular spirit. Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colourful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments. Sugar skulls are labour intensive and made in very small batches in the homes of sugar skull makers. These wonderful artisans are disappearing as fabricated and imported candy skulls take their place.
Although it is a holiday from far away in southern Mexico, it’s a holiday one can personalize and integrate into their own religious and cultural beliefs. It is more of a cultural holiday than a religious one. It is a wonderful way to celebrate the memories of our loved ones who are now gone… through art, cooking, music, building ofrendas, doing activities with our children, we can recount family stories, fun times and lessons learned… not how the person died, but how they lived.
So this year why don’t we come together to celebrate a day dictated to our passed loved ones and kick start the tradition here in the UK.
Update – thanks to John Williams there is a event taking place in Doncaster but on the 24th November
If you wish to attend please click on the following link for details