Tradition says that the souls of the deceased return to the world of the living Nov. 1 and Nov. 2,dubbed All Saints’ Day (Día de Todos los Santos) and All Souls’ Day (Los Fieles Difuntos),respectively. This tradition can be traced back to Mexico’s Catholic heritage and is historically a time when the church commemorates the dead by praying for their souls.
As one of the most popular holidays in Mexico,rituals include visiting family graves and remembering deceased relatives. Altars are set up in homes to honor the departed,and throughout Mexico markets and shops sell toys,candy,paper wreaths and seasonal flowers,which families use to decorate cemetery graves. It is also customary to host family gatherings featuring a wide variety of traditional Mexican dishes and drinks,which are also placed on the altars as offerings.
Interestingly,the celebrations in Mexico surrounding All Saints’ Day (and Day of the Dead) can actually be traced back to ancient times. Originally held closer to the beginning of August in the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar,the holiday enjoys a history that is rooted in pre-Columbian rituals and has managed to retain many of its original cultural elements.
“Although the ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology,it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual,such as the use of skulls,” writes The Arizona Repulic. “The skulls were used to honor the dead,whom the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed came back to visit during the month long ritual.”
Unlike the Spaniards,the natives in Mexico viewed death as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing it,they embraced the concept of death and viewed life as a dream and death as a state of being truly awake. During ancient times,the festivities were believed to be watched over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl or Catrina,also known as “Lady of the Dead,” or “Goddess of Death,” who was often portrayed as a skeleton and believed in some traditions to have perished at birth.
Today,people throughout Mexico keep the colorful ancient traditions alive by donning wooden masks known as calacas and dancing in honor of their beloved deceased relatives. Wooden skulls are often placed upon home altars dedicated to honoring the dead,while sugar skulls that are adorned with the names of departed loved ones are often eaten by relatives and friends to symbolize ancient concepts of death and rebirth.
“On these holidays in Mexico,marigolds are everywhere,as people believe this flower attracts the spirits of the dead,” writes UMHS in St. Kitts. “People wear the clothes of departed relatives. They paint skulls on their faces and wear skeleton masks and costumes. Some even drink the favorite foods and beverages of the departed.”
Throughout Mexico in modern times,All Saints’ Day is closely connected with All Souls’ Day. Many activities take place well into the night of Nov. 1,some even carrying over to the morning of Nov. 2. Families often visit cemeteries after dark,laden with brooms,buckets,flowers,candles and other offerings to leave behind on the graves of deceased relatives. Over the centuries,each city,town and village has developed its own set of traditions,ensuring that this vibrant holiday continues for generations to come!