Understanding Mexico's Day of the Dead

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Gringo Furniture Mexico Day of Dead blog

Every year, Mexico hums with excitement, emotion and colorful displays as it celebrates Day of the Dead. In the US and Canada, we are sometimes aware of the custom if we perchance visit Mexico in late October or early November. To the passerby this tradition may seem a bit strange when first encountered, but it is a beautiful feast of love, appreciation, communal healing ... in fact it's the ultimate celebration of life.

Mexican Day of the Dead is celebrated the first 2 days of November, but the atmosphere, preparations and shopping begin 2 weeks before that. You can feel and see the excitement in the markets in Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Puerto Vallarta, Puebla and Merida, for example. Mexicans begin planning the menus they will serve their dead relatives, buying bright colored paper decorations for the altars, purchasing sugar calaveras in all sizes and various representations of skeletons and dead souls ... in the hope of honoring those who have passed ... those who are still remembered, those invited into their homes to share in the celebration.

Setting up the Mexican Dead of the Dead altar is done in businesses, in Mexico homes, in kitchens, Mexico living rooms and patios. It is a group effort, with families and villages coming together and pitching in with objects, photos, candles, pot luck dishes. The more ornate and beautiful the altar, the higher the likelihood that the dead relatives will notice it, feel invited and feel free to visit the homes to partake in the offerings.

November 1st is the "Velacion de los Angelitos." On this day the focus is the souls of little angels -- children who have passed on. In homes around Mexico, it is not unusual for living children to take the lead on this day and be the hosts of the celebration, the music, the games, the prayers. Like attracts like and the souls of little angels are best called into the Mexican homes by the living children.

November 2nd is the day in which the adult souls that have passed on are honored, feasted, remembered. The objective is to attract the souls of your relatives so that you can show them how much you care and how well they are remembered. The altar is the beacon. A Mexican Day of the Dead altar calls the dead to the home so they can share with their living relatives. This creates good feeling, good relationship and good support from the ancestors. The altar is prepared with love, care and the best offerings. Representations of the 4 elements are placed on the altar: Fire (candles), water (glasses of clear liquid to quench the thirst of the soul), Wind (light, bright colored crepe paper ornaments), and Earth (foods, desserts, the bounty of the Earth). In addition incense made from copal, a sacred tree resin, is burned in order to attract the souls of the deceased and lead them to the homes.

Mexicans visit cemeteries with food, flowers and feasts, as well. They pray, offer food and drink to their dead ones, their ancestors. They bring musicians, they bring their furniture, chairs, benches and they stay a while visiting, sharing, telling stories, honoring.

The result? A deep feeling of satisfaction, peace and harmony. A sense of the continuity of life, the blessing of the ancestors and having done something good for present and future generations.

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