Festival – Mexico

“The Day of the Dead is the Mexican version of Halloween. It is more like a party, or a celebration of a person’s life.”

Is there anything unique about this day? “Some people go to the extent of having picnics over the graves of their loved ones who have deceased.”

Are there any special foods you eat on this day? “I’m not too sure about that, but have you ever been to Olvera street downtown? There are always these decorations and paper mache skulls down there that are common for this celebration.”

Guillermo told me that he and his immediate family do not usually celebrate this holiday every year, which falls on the 1st of November. However, he said that he knows of it from older members of his family who would celebrate it more frequently. He said that this celebration is held to remember those who have passed away and to honor what they did during their life. He explained that a family remembers their relatives who have passed away and brings pictures of them to the celebration or picnic. He told me about the use of skull symbolism in the decorations for this day and how those images represent how the dead are incorporated and involved in this celebration.

He explained to me how this celebration is significant for the family members who are still living as a way to accept the loss of their loved ones. This day allows family members to have a party in their honor so to enjoy and remember all the happy memories they had with that person. It sheds a more positive light on death, expressing it as a natural occurrence. It is not usually a sad or mournful celebration, but one that helps the family come to terms with their loss. He said that this celebration is significant in shaping the way in which the natural process of life and death are understood.

The iconographic importance of the skull during this celebration has a significant meaning. According to Stanley Brandes, he there are several different kinds of treats eaten on this celebration which are made in the shape of skulls or skeletons. There are candy skulls made of white sugar with colorful decorative sugar frosting on it, which are given as treats to children. There are chocolate caskets with these sugar skeletons inside, viewed through an opening or window, with a string attached that when pulled moves the skeleton as if resurrected. These treats and images are tied to humor and lightheartedness, linked with children and jokes. Brandes explains that this expression of art and philosophy on death has not been thwarted by the oppression Mexico has endured in its history. (“Iconography in Mexico’s…”).

This cultural celebration of death also seems as a way for the living community to help the deceased transition into the afterlife. By having a celebration their honor, even having a picnic over their grave, it still allows the dead to participate in the living world even though they are not bodily present on earth. I agree with Guillermo that this celebration helps the living to cope with the loss of loved ones in coming to terms with the natural processes of life and death.

Annotation: Brandes, Stanley. “Iconography in Mexico’s Day of the Dead: Origins and Meaning.” Ethnohistory. 45.2 (1998): 181-218. 30 Apr. 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/483058>.