Day of the Dead: El Día de los Muertos

Rezwana Islam
Prof. Thomas Regan
Assignment # 7
Day of the Dead: El Día de los Muertos
Where did we come from? Why do our lives end? What will happen
to us after we die? Is there life after death? If so, what kind of life? These are
some of the questions that wonder around in our mind to understand the
finite existence on this earth. From the beginning of earth, man has felt the
urgency to explore the mystery of life and death. Many civilization and
cultures have created rituals to try and to give meaning to human existence.
To the indigenous peoples of Mexico, death was considered the passage to a
new life and so the deceased were buried with many of their personal
objects, which they need in the hereafter. Many times their pets were
sacrificed so they would accompany their masters on their long journey.
The festival of the Day of the Dead is a product of two cultures the
Catholic Christian culture and the native Mexican cultures. For Mexicans
death is a dual concept, which combines both life and death. This idea can
be seen very clearly in the celebration of the Day of the Dead. In the distant
past Mexican celebrated the day of the dead over two months period. For
Mexican it is huge festival, since this is the day in which the living
remembers their departed relatives. When the Spaniards missionaries came,
they prohibited this traditional two-month celebration. Since this was so
important to Mexicans that a shorter festival was created for them. The
Church created a special celebration at Nov 1st, which is now dedicated for
the children who have died and Nov 2nd was dedicated for the adults who
have died. Because of the popularity of this festival among the people, the
Church was forced to accept this celebration as a part of its activities. Now,
the 1st day of November is called All saints day, and 2nd November as called
All Souls Day.
The tradition dictates that during the Day of the Dead, people need to
put alters in their home. The alter is build to welcome the deceits love one
back into the home. From the anthropological point of view, this day is
dedicated to the integration of the family. Through this tradition the children
and the family are given the life stories of each of the family members that
are included in the altar. The altar includes four main elements of nature –
earth, wind, water, and fire. Earth is represented by crop: The Mexicans
believe the souls are fed by the aroma of food. The second element is air
which is represented by a moving object: Tissue paper is commonly used to
represent wind. Water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst
after a long journey to the altar. Fire is represented by a wax candle: Each lit
candle represents a soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul.
Even the name of this ritual can misguide people of other cultures.
They might think the Day of the Dead would be something gruesome,
terrifying, scary, and sad. Nothing further from the truth, Day of the Dead is
a thoughtful ritual in which Mexicans happily and lovingly honor and
remember their loved relatives that have died.
Works Cited
Reverent Remembrance: Honoring the Dead. Burke Museum of Natural
History & Culture. University of Washington, 2003 <http://www.
Food for the Ancestors. Food for thought Production, Chicago, Inc.2000.