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How Mexicans honour the departed

October 25th, 2017    Author:

Next month it’s Mexico’s Day of the Day so we’re taking a look at this annual tradition…

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The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, began in Mexico several thousand years ago at a time when the Aztecs believed mourning loved ones was disrespectful. They considered the deceased to still be part of the community and wanted a way to keep their memory and spirit alive. The annual event, which takes place on the first two days of November, is held throughout Mexico and is now listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

During the celebrations, altars are built in homes and cemeteries ready to welcome visiting spirits. Colourful marigolds decorate the altar, which is purified with smoke from copal incense and laden with offerings such as family photos and a candle for each dead relative. A toy may be left for a child spirit.

Food and drink are also left out ready for the deceased. Some families may offer ‘pan dulce’ – a typical Mexican sweetbread – that’s been decorated with bones and skulls made out of dough. Others may prepare their loved one’s favourite meal. Sugar skulls are also a popular offering.

Outside, the streets are decorated with ‘papel picado’, intricately designed shapes made from coloured tissue paper. And everyone gets into the party mood to celebrate the festivities. They paint their faces with skulls and put on fancy dress costumes to parade through their town, city or village.

Far removed from the sombre memorial ceremonies of some other cultures, the Mexicans remind us that remembering our loved ones can be a happy, uplifting and joyful occasion.

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