Friday, October 18, 2013


An ancient Aztec celebration in memory of deceased ancestors, Dia de la Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 1 and 2. It is believed that on October 31, the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of all deceased children are allowed to be reunited with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come to enjoy the festivities. While celebrated throughout Latin America, it is especially popular in Mexico, where it is a national holiday.

Though the subject matter may be considered morbid from the perspective of some other cultures, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead joyfully. Even with its proximity to Halloween, the traditional mood is much brighter with an emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, and celebrating the continuation of life. The belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life.

The origins of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous peoples of the area, such as the Aztec, Maya, P'urhépecha, Nahua, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the lives of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations for at least the last 3000 years.

Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of October 31 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate the graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigold called Flor de Muerto, or zempoalxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty-flower.” Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas (altars) are also put in homes.

Customs very from town to town and by region and country. In Brazil and El Salvador, on November 2, people go to church and visit cemeteries where they clean their ancestors graves and leave flowers. On November 1 in Guatemala the festival is a colorful and lively celebration for which extravagant kites (barriletes gigantes) are built and flown high above the cemeteries as a symbolic link between the living and the dead.

The Cavendish Historical Society, as part of its Hands on History and Honoring Our Heritage programs, is offering a free Dia de la Muertos workshop on November 2, 3-5 pm at the Parish Hall of the Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Proctorsville. The workshop will include making papal picado (paper cuts), the banners that decorate many homes and streets; paper flowers; sugar skulls and more. For more information, please call 802-226-7807 or e-mail

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