WHAT IS THE DAY OF THE DEAD?
Since pre-Hispanic times in Mexico, indigenous people have worshiped death, and it has been conceived as a duality of life, part of the cycle of nature.
When conquerors arrived, the cult for death merged with the Catholic religion, giving rise to the Day of the Dead tradition during November 1st and 2nd of each year. This is the time when Mexicans celebrate death. They decorate tombs with flowers and set altars in their homes, for those dear souls who leave the after-life for a moment to come to this world visiting family, home and friends.
What can we find on an altar during the day of the dead?
It has food, candles, incense, liquor, flowers, photos, sugar skulls, special bread and belongings of the deceased. Offerings are made respectfully by the family to remember those who are gone. Drawings and verses of the arts, science or politics that poke fun at dead and living personalities are part of this tradition, and refer to the popular saying, “The deceased to the coffin and the living to the party.”
What is the goal of the festival?
To ensure active participation by society, artists and Mayan communities, integrating the cultural diversity in the Day of the Dead through the recovery of contemporary and traditional ethnic practices related to this ancient Mexican tradition.
Indigenous festivals dedicated to the deceased
For the indigenous people of Mexico living in the south central region, practices and traditions prevailing in their societies to celebrate the spirit of the ancestors are some of the most profound and dynamic customs currently being carried out. This social event is also one of the most representative and significant in their community.
The ceremonies performed each year are meant not only to be in touch with the ancestors, but also with members of the community, resulting in the interaction of the families. This highlights a wide horizon of ideas that have been enriched over the centuries, with more than 60 indigenous groups with an uninterrupted presence in nearly every region of the nation.
The Maya death cult and the contemporary practice of the Hanal Pixán
The Maya, just like any other Mesoamerican culture, expressed a deep interest in death, which can be seen in its artistic manifestations during different periods of time.
For ancient and contemporary Mayan people, the dead are alive, meaning that their spirits are in need of support, just as the living are. That’s the reason why people cook favorite dishes for the deceased, to give them energy during their journey to the underworld. In addition, consider the Catholic feast of All Saints and All Souls, liturgies introduced by the Spanish, resulting in a syncretic practice of the Hanal Pixán.
Hanal Pixán, Day of the Dead or All Saints Day, besides being one of the most intimate practices of families in the Yucatan Peninsula, has the virtue of bringing together many family members.
It is a time of returning. The living, who for various reasons were absent from the family bosom, return to take part in preparation for this celebration. The souls of the dead return to share food, specially cooked with love for them by the living, so the living and the dead can be reunited again. That is how from family to family, from one generation to another, this ancient tradition has been kept alive through the centuries.