Day of the Dead:
Mexican traditions
Mexican customs
Mexican beliefs

 

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Queta palestino

Enriqueta Palestino, ex project General Director, Fundación Trébol de Puebla

 

 

Day of the Dead Mexico

Skeleton Xalapa
  • Mexico, in common with most of the Americas, was colonised by the Spanish from the 16th century onwards. This has led to a combination of Indian beliefs with European Christian ideology. The best-known example of this is the Day of the Dead, the Mexican equivalent of All Souls day, which is celebrated on November 1st.
Skeleton xalapa

 

Mexican Day of the Dead

Queta Palestino explains:
Our Indian cultural roots have survived to the present day and have combined with the Christian tradition, which we inherited from the Spanish Conquistadores. The celebration of the Day of the Dead represents the fusion of two races of people, Indian and European. The combination of these two cultures has shaped the modern Mexican's attitude towards death. We learn resignation through adversity and hardship, and our calmness gives us humour and defiance in the face of death itself. At the same time we venerate the memory of the dead and honour their souls. The tradition of making offerings in recognition of loved ones who have died dates back to 3500 BC. For the Mesoamerican people death is seen as a transition and life and death are part of the same continuum. The Aztec, Toltec and Mayan peoples used to bury their dead in earthenware pots full of food, beaded necklaces, and golden jewellery so they would have everything they needed for their next life.
The modern celebration concerns making an offering to the person who though physically absent, is still living in our memory. An altar is made in each home for the purpose of honouring the dead. Photographs and possessions of the person who has died are placed on the altar along with the other items. Marigolds, known to us a flor de muerto (flower of the dead) are used to adorn the altar. Fruit, water, flowers and scented candles are placed with their favourite food and we pray for those who have died. The smell of the candle guides the spirits home to their loved ones. Care must be taken not to blow out the candles as they can only be stubbed out with the flower heads. If the candles are accidentally blown out, the spirits leave.

sugar skulls

Sugar skulls for sale on the day of the dead.

Unfortunately these ancient traditions are under attack from Halloween celebrations. The Halloween celebration is an import from the United States, which has nothing to do with our cultural or religious roots. However, in spite of this threat, the celebration of the day of the dead is still very important to the majority of Mexican people.


More examples of the Mexican fusion of Christian and Indian beliefs

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day of the dead altar

A typical altar in Huaquechula, a town located near our project site in Atlixco.

In the centre is a photograph of the deceased, surrounded by the things he enjoyed in life. It's not unusual to see a bottle of tequila or a packet of cheap Mexican cigarettes at the back of the altar. The altar is always surrounded by candles.
In November 2001 there were special altars dedicated to those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center, many of whom were Mexican migrant workers.

9/11 altar

A special altar put up in November 2001 in Puebla's Casa de Cultura paying tribute to the Mexican workers killed in the World Trade Centre on 9/11.

 

The Mexico Child link trust works with abandoned and orphan children with learning disability. Many of them are ex street children who have been rescued from children's jails, reform schools and other grim institutions in the Puebla area.

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