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By Breyton Méndez

As we enter the last half of October, many Mexicans’ thoughts are starting to turn toward ofrendas, Catrinas, and shrines in remembrance of loved ones who have passed away, for just around the corner is coming the holiday that celebrates. The Day of the Dead celebrations are fast approaching.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the time when tradition says the barrier between the afterlife and our world is easily crossed, is one of the biggest holidays in México. But not all non-Mexicans realize that November 1 is actually the day when only the souls of deceased children are believed to come from the afterlife to visit our world. November 2 is the Day of the Dead many expats are used to hearing about, the day when adult dead souls arrive from the afterlife.

The celebration of these two feast days dates back to the pre-Hispanic era. The indigenous celebration mixed with Catholic elements over time. The original festival fell on the ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar, around the beginning of August. Festivities lasted an entire month and were presided over by Mictecacihuatl, the goddess later known as La Dama de la muerte (The Lady of Death). She is the origin of the famous La Catrina archetype. The festivities were dedicated to the celebration of dead children and adults both.

The most prominent aspect of this festival today is the altars with their offerings. Beginning on October 28, people begin to put them up, a process that culminates on November 2. Normally a table with candles is prepared that features white flowers, marigolds (a typical flower of the season), a glass of water, white bread, photos of the relatives who are the altar’s focus, and seasonal fruits—mandarin oranges, guava, oranges, apples, and tejocotes are typical. Also added is a favorite food or beverage of the deceased—often tequila, mezcal, or beer or candy).

During this time, a special sweet bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead) is served. It is shaped like a bun and decorated in a crisscross fashion, representing the cross of Jesus. The decorative pieces represent the bones of the deceased and the sesame seeds the supposed tears of the deceased who has not yet found peace.


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