Preparations are well underway for Mexico’s most surreal festival – “El Dia de los Muertos.”
The Day of the Dead, as it is known in English, is based on pre-Columbian religious rituals, with the earliest celebrations traced back as far as 2,500-3,000 years ago.
The tradition is thought to have originated from an Aztec ceremony dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl.
The Aztecs, for whom human sacrifice was common practice, considered death just another stage of life. With the spilling of blood deemed essential for maintaining the balance of life and ensuring that the sun continued to rise each day, it was only natural for them to celebrate death.
Following the conquest of Mexico, the Spanish conquistadores sought to merge the festival with All Souls Day as part of their attempts to evangelize the indigenous population. They were never entirely successful and every year on November 2 many Mexicans still give offerings to honor and remember deceased friends and family. (Children are remembered on November 1 – All Saints Day.)
Graveyards throughout Jalisco will be packed on these days as relatives bring offerings of flowers, photos, mementos and food for their departed loved ones. In some places the graveyards open the night before, such as the neighboring state of Michoacan, where the country’s biggest and most colorful Day of the Dead ritual takes place on the island of Janitzio in Lake Patzcuaro.
Day of the Dead also allows Mexico to indulge in one of its most guilty pleasures: poking fun at death. You won’t find trick or treaters, witches, goblins or Halloween candy on El Dia de los Muertos. But there are chocolate coated candy skulls, clickety-clackety skeletons dangling on sticks, bread baked in the shape of bones and cardboard coffins that open to reveal a skeleton at a pull of a string. A unique feature of the day are the short poems or epitaphs published by newspapers, called calaveras literarias, that mock the self-important and famous figures as if they had just passed away.