Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dia de los Muertos Workshop: Nov. 1

Día de los Muertos, Día de los Difuntos or Día de Muert

As part of the Cavendish Historical Society's Hands on History and Honoring Our Heritage programs, the annual Dia de los muertos workshop will be held on Nov. 1 (Saturday) from 3-5 pm at Gethsemane Church Parish Hall, off of Depot Street in Proctorsville. Activities including decorating sugar skulls, making Papel Picado (paper cuts), paper flowers and more. This is a free event but donations are appreciated to help with expenses. 

An ancient Aztec celebration in memory of deceased ancestors, Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 (All Saints' Day) and November 2 (All Souls' Day). The holiday is especially popular in Mexico, where it is a national holiday, it is also celebrated in other parts of South America and in communities with strong Latino roots.

Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead joyfully, and though it occurs at the same time as Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls Day, the traditional mood is much brighter with 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. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern Catrina.

Beliefs and customs

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's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas (altars) are also put in homes. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

Altars are decorated with cempazúchil flowers, images of saints, candles, traditional foods and things that once belonged to the deceased to honor and please the spirits. What the spirits consume is steam from the food. They do not digest it physically; they extract the goodness from what is provided. After the spirits leave, the living visit each other in their homes and exchange the prepared food. Images of favorite saints are frequently placed on the altar to elicit special divine protection for loved ones. A towel, soap and mirror are also seen on the altars for the spirits to freshen up before feasting on their favorite foods.

In some cases chairs are placed for the spirits to sit and rest. In the state of Veracruz the Totonac's an indigenous group suspend a wooden board from the ceiling used for the altar. They also suspend local fruits such as bananas, jicamas, limes, oranges, and mandarins from the ceiling. Traditionally these altars are decorated with green tepejilote leaves that are fashioned in the style of suns, stars, and pineapples. The Totonac's also embroider skirts, blouses, napkins, and tablecloths because it is believed that the spirits use these clothes to carry away their food.

The colors of the various items on the altar have the following meaning:
Purple: signifies pain, suffering, grief, and mourning.
Pink: celebration
White: purity and hope
Orange: sun
Red: the blood of life
Yellow: cempazuchitl are marigolds that symbolize death. Petals are used to make a trail so that the spirits can see the path to their altars.

"Calaveras" – short poems mocking epitaphs of friends, sometimes with things they used to do in life originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future.”

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (calavera), which is represented in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), and foods such as sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto (or "bread of the dead"), a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos opens its doors to visitors in exchange for 'veladoras' (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently dead. In return, the visitors receive tamales and 'atole'. This is only done by the owners of the house where somebody in the household has died in the previous year. In some parts of the country, children in costumes roam the streets, asking passersby for a calaverita, a small gift of money; they don't knock on people's doors.

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