Dia de los Muertos, contrary to its title, celebrates life.
On Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 it is Hispanic tradition to hold a holiday to remember dead ancestors and celebrate their rebirth, said Sergio Quesada, professor of anthropology and curriculum coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute.
The tradition began with pre-Hispanic culture influences that saw death as a transition between lives.
The culture sees human life as never-ending and always present.
“Mexicans live with death every day,” Quesada said.
Death is not trivialized, it’s seen as an honor in Mexican culture, especially if the person died in an honorable position, such as a woman in childbirth or a man in war.
Even children play with death in their youth. Common child toys are rubber skeletons or dolls.
Mexicans celebrate life and its value because they realize death is so imminent, unexpected and equalizing.
“Mexicans have a love affair with death,” Quesada said. “Not with dead people, but with the idea of death.”
The celebration starts Oct. 31 at midnight when tradition says the spirits of the dead in the last year return to their home on earth.
Alters are prepared by each family to welcome their dead back home. The alter is set up in the households of each family or at the cemetery where their love one is buried. Decorated with clipped decorative paper, flowers, food and candles, the alters are meant to guide the dead back to their home.
“They are a little disoriented, you see,” Quesada said,” so you have to help them. They will see it, and they will say, ‘Oh, I remember that’s my house. Now I remember. It’s been a while, but now I remember.”
The decorations aren’t just any, though, they are special and symbolic.
The flowers are a mixture, but always include the bright yellow cempasúchitl or marigold.
The food is varied, but must always include the favorites of the dead. It’s a feast, but a personalized feast.
The celebration among the living begins at about 12:15 in the morning, after the dead have had a chance to eat from their home-cooked feasts. Then, the party begins.
Families share among themselves first, but not for long. The celebration is wide-spread on the Dia de los Muertos, the whole community is invited.
It’s a walking party. One can hop from feast to feast and be invited in everywhere and anywhere.
All equals, all happy. Mexicans can be content with their lives on the Day of the Dead.
“It’s not a sad day just to think that you’re not going to escape it,” Quesada said. “It is a day to be happy because you are going to be dead the same as everyone else.”