Celebrating Dia de los Muertos has a long history in Mexican tradition. It is celebrated on 2 November, a day set aside to remember and honour those who have died.
Day of the Dead is truly a celebration of life. When children dance with caricatures of death, eat skull sugar molds and learn to respect that life is brief, they learn there is a circle to life. This helps them to not fear death and they are free to enjoy and appreciate every moment.
Day of the Dead altars are built during Dia de los Muertos to honour the lives of those who have passed. They are often quite beautiful creations, constructed with love and care. Traditionally, every family in Mexico builds an altar on the days leading up to November 1. Some people even start weeks in advance and hire professionals to build elaborate altars. Other altars are more modest, but are still built with sincere, loving intentions.
Halloween is upon us! It seems that everywhere we go, there are costumes and candy, and, in spite of many people being “dead” against it, it’s gaining momentum and getting bigger each year.
The word Halloween comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of the Christian celebration of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the three-day observance dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs and the faithful departed believers. If you are interested in learning more about it, we have a great book: Halloween, Its Origin, Rites and Ceremonies in the Scottish Tradition.
Halloween is celebrated by many cultures in many different ways, but the best known is the American way – a fun celebration where costumes are worn and children go trick-or-treating: door knocking asking for candy in exchange for not doing mischief.
In Japan the day is called Obon (Festival of Lanterns); in Mexico it is Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead); in Cambodia it is P’chum Ben, (Ancestors’ Day); in Romania it is Világítás (Day of the Dead). Samhain is a Gaelic celebration; in China it is Zhong Yuan Jie (Ghost Festival) and many other countries have a similar festivity. I suppose for us humans death is the last frontier and we want to make sense of it in any way we can. And if we can’t, then we will challenge and mock it by dressing up and eating lots of candy!
So what will you be doing? Will you be joining the fun by getting dressed up and making some ghoulish goodies and decorations? Or will you just have a quiet day of remembrance?
On the 1st of November the Mexican community came to Upper Riccarton Library to set up a Dia de los Muertos display. On this day throughout Mexico and, to a lesser extent, in other parts of Latin America, people celebrate Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead. That’s right, celebrate – as they understand death not as an ending, but as a pathway.
In homes, people create altars to honour and remember their deceased loved ones, and families and friends gather to remember and reminisce by welcoming the opportunity to reflect upon their lives, their heritage and their ancestors. The day is all about love and happiness, not fear and sadness.
This year the display at Upper Riccarton Library was around Frida Kahlo as she is one of the best known Mexican people in the world. It has been a total success, with heaps of people stopping to look at it and asking questions. We ended up learning that many countries in the world have similar celebrations… it is a small world after all!
Does your culture celebrate a festival similar to Dia de los Muertos?
Like it or loathe it, Halloween is upon us once more. The journey of that old pagan tradition linked to the Northern hemisphere’s autumn festival of Samhain to its current 2 dollar shop plastic kitsch in this country (and others, to be fair) must be a tangled one. If lollies weren’t involved, would children still bother to dress up and go door to door? For a European perspective, you could try Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which will tell you far more than you thought you wanted to know about European pre-Christian mythology.
The idea of a celebration that includes dead family and friends doesn’t have to be morbid or a spooky one, as Halloween pretends to be. My favourite has to be the Mexican Day Of The Dead, which actually covers 3 days , from 31st October to 2nd November, and is celebrated with food, drink and remembering those who have passed away. Has to be better than Christmas Day with the in-laws, surely
Fendalton Library is having a Dia De Los Muertos display, from Friday 1st November, courtesy of Christchurch’s vibrant Mexican community; why not drop and have a look if you’re in the area? The library does have a book dedicated exclusively to El Dia De Los Muertos, if you wanted to find out more.
Since we’re heading into the festive season, why not check out the library resources on festivals.