By Antonieta Mercado
The Day of the Dead celebration is a syncretic mix of Latin American indigenous practices and Catholic spiritual tradition. Families in many Latin American countries and U.S. communities honor the spirit of the dead as the ancestors did by creating altars or ofrendas (offerings), placing favorite foods, photos, special bread (“pan de muerto”) and other items associated with the ones who are gone.
The traditional cempazúchitl or zempoalxóchitl flower (marigold) that is used in altars symbolizes the color of death (yellow) for many indigenous groups, such as the Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, and Nahua. It is believed that the yellow color of the flower can be seen by the dead, so its petals are placed forming a road directing the souls to the altar. Abundant marigolds are placed in different forms, either as an arch, or in flower vases around the altar.
European colonization also brought religious syncretism to this custom, and placed the current celebration on November 1st, to honor the souls of dead children, and on November 2nd to honor the adults who had passed. November 2nd is also All Saints Day in the Catholic Tradition. Pre-Colonial festivities honoring the dead used to last from one to three months, depending on the particular group or region. For example, the Nahua, Totonaca, and Maya, believed that the dead would go to the underworld or Mictlán region to meet Mictlantehcutli, the dual male/female deity of death. [Read more…]