The cult of death was one of the most important aspects of pre-Hispanic civilization; when someone died, they were wrapped in a petate and their relatives threw a feast to help them on their journey to Mictlán. Similarly, they placed food that he enjoyed in his life in the hopes that he would become hungry.In the indigenous vision, the Day of the Dead refers to the temporary return of the deceased’s souls to the realm of the living, where they will live with relatives and be nourished by the essence of the food served to them in the altars.Death is a sign of life that materializes in the offered altar in this Day of the Dead celebration; death is a symbol of life that materializes in the offered altar. In this respect, it is a very popular celebration since it encompasses a wide range of meanings, from philosophical to material.
The ancient Mexicas, Mixtecs, Texcocans, Zapotecs, Tlaxcalans, Totonacs, and other native peoples of our country transferred the veneration of their dead to the Christian calendar, which coincided with the end of the agricultural cycle of corn.Because the Day of the Dead is divided into categories, it is celebrated on November 1 and 2. November 1 corresponds to All Saints, a day dedicated to the “little dead,” or children, and November 2 to the Faithful Departed, or adults, according to the Catholic calendar.
Every year, many families create altars with cempaschil flowers, chopped paper, sugar skulls, dead bread, mole, or some other cuisine that their relatives enjoyed, and incense is used to aromatize the space, as it was in pre-Hispanic times. Similarly, the festivities involve flower-draped tombs and the creation of altars on tombstones, which had tremendous significance in indigenous times because it was thought that it helped guide the souls to a decent path after death.
According to tradition, cempasuchil flower petals should be sprinkled and candles placed along the road that spirits will walk to ensure that they do not get lost and arrive at their destination. This road ran from the family home to the pantheon, where their loved ones rested in ancient times.
The Day of the Dead celebration is one of the most important in Oaxaca, one of the most culturally rich states. The altars are covered in a white tablecloth or papel picado and separated into steps, each with its own significance: the first represents the grandparents and/or adults, while the second and subsequent ones represent everyone else. There are numerous exhibitions in Oaxaca during this festival. Other states and significant locations in Mexico on this festival include Michoacán’s Janitzio and Pátzcuaro, Mexico City’s Xochimilco, and Puebla’s Cuetzalán, to name a few.
Today, a figure known as “La Catrina” may be found in most Day of the Dead festivities, as she is one of the most popular characters in Mexican culture, born in 1912 as a social critic of the wealthy classes, from a satirical and acid humor point of view at the hands of the renowned Mexican engraver Jose Guadalupe Posadas.
But it was not until the famous muralist Diego Rivera included it in his mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central” that Rivera gave the final details to the stylized image, the long elegant dress, the beautiful hat and jewels as it is known around the world today.
It’s worth noting that the United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) designated this festival as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008, owing to its historical significance.