Today we fly to South America, more precisely to Mexico to discover one of the most important and oldest festivals in the tradition of this country, the “día de los muertos”, or the day of the dead. Those who know or have joined this party, or those who have seen pictures of this celebration, know that this ceremony has nothing to do with Halloween or with Italy’s day of the dead. Here the bright and gaudy colours, the intense coloured skulls, the music and the dances are the key players, nothing is horrible or sad as people might imagine.
This anniversary has very ancient roots, at the beginning two holidays were celebrated to commemorate the dead: Miccailhuitntli in July for deceased children and Ueymicailhuitl in August for adults, both lasted a month. Mexicans did not believe that the fate depended on the behaviour held in life, but according to them, the destination of souls was determined by the causes of death. There were three types of directions for adult souls: Tlalocan, the paradise for water-related deaths; Omeyocan, for those who died during war events and Mictlán, for natural deaths.
However, in 1500 Spanish people brought their traditions to Latin America and thus made their celebrations coincide with the Mexican holiday, creating the current “día de los muertos” which is celebrated from the end of October until November 2.
During this celebration, joy, colours and music fill the Mexican cities and streets where everyone, both children and adults, dance, sing and parade wearing colourful skeleton costumes to celebrate life. Death is seen as a happy and peaceful passage and consequently no negative meanings are attributed to it.
What are the other Mexican customs to honour the dead who on this occasion reach the living? To remember and celebrate relatives and loved ones, Mexicans adorn the gravestones with flowers and decorations. And if you are in Mexico during this holiday, you will see the “altares de muertos”, real colourful and not at all funeral altars made with care and dedication and dedicated to the dead. On each altar there are photos of the deceased, their favourite foods, water, salt, candles, bread of the dead (pan de muertos), sugar skulls (calaveras), incense, coloured and decorated sheets of paper (papel picado) and Cempasúchil flowers.
Speaking of flowers, the Cempasúchil are native to Mexico and are easily recognizable by their bright colour, usually yellow and orange, and by their very intense scent. They are an indispensable element because according to the tradition, the dead, thanks to these flowers fragrance, are able to find their way back home. So every street and every cemetery is full of colourful Cempasúchil.
In 2008, UNESCO entered the “Día de los muertos” in the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity considering it “one of the most important representations of the living heritage of Mexico and of the world, and as one of the oldest and strongest cultural expressions among the indigenous groups of the country”.