In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a holiday that combines elements of pre-Hispanic culture and Catholicism, preserving ancient traditions and honoring loved ones who have passed away.
Day of the Dead in Mexico – Tradition of the Living
These customs encompass a range of emotions, such as grief over the loss of a loved one, the desire to remember details of their lives and the humor of Mexican culture, which, in its particular way of being, even finds humor in death.
The celebration of the Day of the Dead is divided into two parts: the first is All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated on November 1 and the second is the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on November 2.
On All Saints’ Day, families often create elaborate altars inside their homes or on gravestones in cemeteries as a way of remembering their deceased children.
Altars are decorated with bright paper, cempasúchil flowers and toys such as candy, dolls and strollers. The deceased adults are expected to appear at the end of the first night of Day 1.
Day of the Dead, November 2
It is a holiday full of customs that recall long-forgotten traditions.
Many families only visit cemeteries to place flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones, but for some families, it is part of a ritual that begins early in the morning, when altars of the dead are often erected on the tombstones of their deceased relatives.
These altars have great significance because they are believed to facilitate a smooth transition for the dead after death.
Families work on the altar for many hours; many of them are true works of art that demonstrate the effort, commitment and creativity of the community to achieve a good altar.
Altar of the Dead
Altars for the dead can be created in several ways. The most basic is the one that many people create in their homes and consists of placing a photo of the deceased on a table covered with a tablecloth and then decorating it with flowers and mementos.
Other altars are built according to tradition and are required to have seven levels or steps to symbolize the seven thresholds that the soul of the deceased must cross before it can rest.
Most of the time, these altars are built in areas with enough space to accommodate the entire altar. A day before the day of the deceased, the room should be swept with aromatic herbs to the four winds.
If you want to create a nice altar for your deceased loved ones, here we will show you how to do it. There is a great variety of altars that you can create, depending on your family’s preferences, traditions and economic capacity.
Each level of the altar is smaller than the previous one and is lined with a black and white cloth. The altar is first built from the bottom up using cardboard boxes, wood, or whatever is available. Each step has a purpose and requires the presence of certain objects:
- First, the image of the saint or virgin of the devotion is placed.
- The second step is for the souls in purgatory.
- In purgatory, salt is placed on the children.
- Fourth, there is the “Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead)”, which is decorated with red sugar to make it look like blood. As this bread is consecrated, it is advised to be made by the
- relatives of the deceased.
- The fifth step is to place on the bread the fruits and favorite foods of the deceased.
- After the sixth step, the photo of the deceased is placed on the altar.
- In the end, the cross of a rosary of tejocote and limes is placed.
Offerings placed on the Altar
Next to the altar, a clay pot filled with aromatic herbs, such as basil, laurel, rosemary, chamomile and others, is placed on a stove. Four main candles are lit to form a cross-oriented towards the four cardinal points.
Elements that an altar should have are:
- Paper chains in purple and yellow color that represent the union of life and death.
- The chopped paper, adds color and joy to life and serves as a portal for ghosts to enter and exit.
- The white flower symbolizes heaven; the yellow, earth; and the purple, mourning. The flowers are welcome for the soul.
- Candles and their flames represent spiritual ascent. They also denote illumination and direction.
- A fresh white canvas symbolizes heaven and purity.
- The candle represents the soul itself.
- The smoke of the copal incense represents the transition from life to death.
- The harvest is symbolized by the corn.
- The gift that nature gives us is the fruit. Usually, it is jicamas, oranges, tejocotes and sugar cane.
- The practice of sugar skulls is indigenous.
- The water that sustains and supplies energy to the road.
- The dishes they use to share the food the deceased liked to appease them.
- The image of the person to whom the tribute is directed.
- Christ bringing blessings
- A lime cross represents the four cardinal points.
- Salt to prevent corruption of the body.
- Petals and cempasúchil flowers created a path from the entrance door to the altar.
- A staff to ward off evil spirits and demons from the deceased.
- Objects that belonged to the deceased…
With information from Cronica Mexico