Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Thanks to movies like Coco and the growing Latinx population, most people in the US are familiar with the Day of the Dead. In Mexico, the celebration of death is a fusion of indigenous traditions and Catholicism imposed by the Spanish colonizers.
Here are seven surprising facts about the Day of the Dead:
1. The celebration of death in Mexico is over 3000 years old, dating back to when the indigenous people would display the skulls of the dead during ceremonies of remembrance. Italian missionaries changed the skulls to decorated edible sugar skulls.
2. The Day of the Dead was originally celebrated in late August during the ninth month of the Mexica calendar. The Spanish colonizers changed the date to November 1 and 2, to coincide with the Catholic celebration of all saints day.
3. In some Mexican communities, days are designated for remembering those who died a certain way. October 28 is for those who died in an accident, October 29 for those that died drowning, November 1st is for dead children, and the 2nd is for dead adults.
4. The catrinas, female skeletons dressed in Spanish clothes, were created in the early 20th century by Jose Guadalupe Posada, a political cartoonist, to remind Mexicans that underneath our clothes we all are skeletons; death is democratic.
5. The bright yellow and orange flowers, cempasuchil or flower of the dead, are used to decorate altars because their petals were thought to contain the rays of the sun, thus lighting the way so the dead can return.
6. The elaborate banners made from tissue paper that decorate the streets and altars symbolize the frailty of life.
7. The altars for the dead have at least 3 levels representing earth, limbo or purgatory, and heaven, but some have up to eight levels. They are decorated with colorful banners, salt, bread, candles, photos of the deceased, and their favorite foods and drink.
Although some may consider the Day of the Dead a morbid event, the spirit behind it is one of celebration of life and remembrance of those who have passed.
Read my article on Day of the Dead in the Snoqualmie Valley here