El Dia de los Muertos
In Mexico this week, cemeteries and graves across the country are being cleaned and decorated, flowers are being purchased and Pan de Muerto (a sweet bread) is being prepared for El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration. Those who believe in this traditional celebration say the souls of the dead return each year to enjoy a few hours of life's pleasures. Their deceased relatives sprinkle rose petals from the cemetary to their houses and welcome the spirits home with food, glowing candles, copal incense, toys and paper puppets, masks and orange-yellow marigolds.
DHS East Spanish teacher Teresa Madiro annually decorates her classroom with masks, skeletons, lace-like paper banners and fruit. In a prominent position at the front of her classroom is the "ofrenda" or platform that is covered and decorated with offerings for the spirits who return. Many communities hold contests for the best "ofrenda". Mrs. Madiro explains to her class that Mexican celebrants spend large sums of money preparing for this short visit each year. Everything they provide for the dead must be new, including the clothes they themselves wear. The soul's favorite food and drink must be provided. They believe that the spirits absorb the essence of the food and beverages that families provide. Once the dead are "satisfied", the food "remaining" is then shared with friends and neighbors.
"It is a joyful holiday in Mexico", said Mrs. Madiro to her class. "The celebration goes on for several days, beginning on October 31st and ending on November 2nd. The day can be traced back to the Catholic faith's All Soul's Day and All Saint's Day, much like the American holiday Halloween."
Early Spanish conquerers in Mexico imposed their customs, language and religion on the natives. The natives took these customs and adapted them to their own culture - adding influences from the Aztec people of Mexico. The Mexican art of "papel picado", cut paper, takes a prominent spot on El Dia de los Muertos with banners featuring animals, flowers and skeletal figures strung together to create colorful decorations.
As with many customs, El Dia de los Muertos continues to evolve and has become a more secular holiday for Mexican Americans. Pumpkins and witches now join the traditional objects on America's ofrendas, as those that emigrated from Mexico celebrate the old and the new - turning the holiday into a true celebration of the joyful culture of Mexico.
Judging from all the correct answers to the questions Mrs. Madiro posed to her students about the day, learning about Mexico's Day of the Dead was a lesson well learned.