El dia de los muertos is an ancestral tradition that has been celebrated by all Mexicans for 3000 years. The famous feast of the dead is part of the Unesco’s world intangible heritage, thanks to its extraordinary celebration within each Mexican family. But how is El dia de los muertos, this colourful ancestral tradition, celebrated ?
El dia de los muertos : a family tradition
Every year, from 28th October to 2nd November, Mexicans prepare for El dia de los muertos, or the festival of the dead. As its name suggests, it consists of honouring the dead, i.e. remembering the deceased in a festive way in a family atmosphere, while respecting ancestral traditions. Originally, the celebration was based solely on indigenous rituals, but since the colonisation of the Spaniards, it has been mixed with Western Christian traditions, up until this day. The whole family gathers to prepare a small feast at home. An altar dedicated to the dead is decorated in the main room, the famous skulls or calaveras are painted in festive colours, the graves are cleaned and decorated and the women prepare the favourite recipes of each deceased. Candles must always be lit from the first day until the last day of the celebration, and special flowers adorn the altar and the graves.
The different objects placed on the altar of the dead
In order to commemorate the departed relatives, the family erects a special altar dedicated to the them. Typical and personal objects are arranged in a remarkable way, representing each element on different levels. The flower is the essential element of the decoration, especially the orange petals of cempasuchil. Sugar-sprinkled bread rolls are shown as offerings for the dead, as well as purifying salt. Pure water to quench the thirst of the deceased and alcoholic beverages (such as tequila, beer or mezcal), corresponding to the taste of the deceased, are offered. A variety of candles and a religious cross are placed on the altar. Incense with pleasant scents is burnt, in order to chase away malevolent spirits, calaveras or catrinas, as well as colorfoul paper are cut into different shapes. Framed photos of the deceased are also placed above the altar where the offerings are placed.
The colourful decorations in the spotlight
El dia de los muertos is a colourful and musical celebration, as far from the Halloween festivities, the Mexican family meets in a festive atmosphere with plenty of food. Mexican culture sees the festival of the dead as a celebration of life, which explains the use of bright colours and festive activities. On this occasion, Mexicans are certain to welcome their ancestors back among the living. These bright decorations are therefore essential to guide their souls on a colourful path.