Dia de los Muertos
By Wendy Sinclair

 

 

The Day of the Dead, also known as “Dia de los Muertos,” has been a very intriguing holiday to study. As a southern girl moving to California, this tradition was quite new to me, but further study into this fascinating holiday reveals that it is widely celebrated throughout California and Texas, as well as other states where the Mexican heritage exist. Countries such as Central and South America populated with the Latino ethnic background also recognize this celebration, and Mexico considers this the most important holiday of the year.

The official Day of the Dead is November 2nd, however the celebration can begin as early as October 31st, corresponding with the Catholic celebration of All Saints day and All Souls day. This is no coincidence. The Catholic church was striving to find similarities between indigenous and Christian beliefs. This holiday sets aside a special time for family members to remember those who have died.

According to the National Commission for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas or CDI in Spanish), there are 12 million indigenous people in Mexico, of many different ethnic groups, which constitute about 11%-12% of the population in the country. Other international organizations, however, prefer to report a percentage of 30% of predominantly indigenous.

While this holiday is associated with the dead, it is by no means connected with a morbid aspect. This is considered a celebration of the dead, with many joys and happiness connected to this wonderful religious display of affection for those who have passed on. Excitement fills the air.

Outdoor markets sell many symbolic traditional goods such as flowers, candy skulls, candles and specialty breads. The marigold is known as the “flower of the dead” and its scent is believed to attract souls drawing them back to our earthly plane.

Families of the dead celebrate in their homes beginning on the 31st of October, and on the 2nd of November the celebration is moved to the cemetery in the form of altars on the family graves. This time is referred to as “Todos Santo” where offerings of nourishment are prepared for the dead. In the home you will often find “Ofrendas” (offerings) displaying personal items of the dead, photos, clothing and foods.

This is an important time in the Latino community because it is looked upon as a time of reflection for those who have passed and is a way to recognize the cycle of life and death that is the human existence. All-night candle vigils take place with the lighthearted memories of their loved ones sharing with one another and talking as if the dead were still alive. It’s a time of enjoyment, for reliving and remembering.

There is even a special bread for this occasion, called “the bread of the dead.” It is a flat bread made from whole anise seed, which has a licorice taste, and can be shaped into a skull and cross bones. A plastic toy skeleton is baked into each loaf and it is considered good luck for the person who finds it. It is also common to find candies baked in the shapes of coffins, skulls and skeletons, as well as the traditional Mexican dishes like sweet tamales, enchiladas, moles, and chiles.

This holiday welcomes the souls of the dead. It is said that they return each year to enjoy the pleasures they once shared while living on the Earth. It is also believed that the children return first finding mini cupcakes and small breads for their arrival. The 1st of November is when it is believed the adult souls return only to be greeted with the finest food and drink the family can afford. The candlelight, scented flowers and incense are thought to help the souls find their way.

Sometimes marigold petals are tossed from the door of the home along a path to the cemetery allowing a yellow path to lead the souls. While the spirits are not seen, it is said they can be felt. Superstitions say if the spirits get poor treatment during this time, the dead spirits will get revenge. These folklores inspire people to participate specifically for that very reason.

The East Village Art District is home to the 2nd City Council Art Gallery + Performance Space located in Long Beach, California, participating in “Dia de los Muertos.” Cheryl Bennett is the Founder and Executive Director of this non-profit art and community gallery, and she shared with me their dedication to actively promoting California artists, the arts, and arts education.
The gallery provides opportunities for artists and supporting activities which contribute to their continued creativity and development, as well as fostering a sense of community by having public exhibitions and special events.

 The 2007 celebration for the Day of the Dead at the gallery extended across the alleyway to the elegant courtyard where they had vibrant Aztec dancers with live music — a wide exchange of culture and art. The courtyard was transformed into a magical display of altars filled with the “Day of the Dead flowers” and candlelight. The festival also offered a variety of authentic delicious foods and traditional vendor arts and crafts.

Mark Vallen is a local artist from California who was a juror for the Day of the Dead exhibit and recalls his love for the origin of this religious holiday and how it all began. His knowledge of the history of “Dia de los Muertos” was very extensive on how this holiday actually predates the Aztec civilization which is recorded from 1100 A.D. to 1519 A.D.

Traditions were learned from the Aztec culture’s native language Nahuatl and their paintings. Nahuatl has over a million and a half speakers, more than any other family of indigenous languages in Mexico today. Mr. Vallen shares his love for art in a blog at art-for-a-change.com.

The Day of the Dead is a most cherished holiday where death is seen as life, and where the entire family comes to celebrate, both the living and the dead.
A big thanks to writer, dear friend and neighbor Dwayne Epstein for his inspiration.’

Wendy Sinclair is an on-air personality in Los Angeles and has been in radio for 13 years. She is also a certified hypnotist and has a new-found inspiration to write about her spiritual awakening and share the joy it adds to this journey we call life. Wendy hopes to inspire as well as be inspired.

 


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