Monday, November 2, 2020

Dia de los Muertos ~ How will YOU celebrate YOUR ancestors?

Dia de los Muertos ~ How will YOU celebrate YOUR ancestors?

Today, November 2, is Dia de los Muertos. 

It is a time when families gather to honor and remember deceased loved ones. It is believed that the souls of the dead return to visit the living families in homes, businesses and cemeteries. 

Anything can be placed on the altar for the visiting souls, including traditional food, fresh flowers, pan de muerto (or bread for the dead), candles,  copal incense (aromatic tree resin), fruits, cloths, photographs, favorite drinks of the deceased, sugar folk toys, religious images and clothing. 

Decorations also include tombstones, skulls and skeletons made of clay and other materials, sugar skulls, and papel picado. Calaveras are ubiquitous during Day of the Dead. A Calavera, or sugar skull, is a decorative skulls made (usually by hand) from either sugar (called Alfeñiques) or clay which are used in the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead. The skulls are often drawn with a smile as to laugh at death itself and the name of each departed is written on a sugar skull. 

The names of the living are also written on these treats to introduce children to the idea of death in an atmosphere of joyful celebration. These sugar skulls are eaten and the living come to associate pleasant sensations with the sadness of death. 

Calaveras take many forms, such as sugar candies, clay decorations, and most memorable: face painting. Sugar skulls are decorated and placed on ofrendas of loved ones. 

Most importantly, a photograph of the departed soul is placed on the altar. Pan de muerto, bread for the dead, is sweet and baked in shapes of skulls and human figures. 

Traditional loaves are round with a central raised knob of dough, representing the skull, with crossed bone-shaped decorations radiating from the central knob. 

Día de los Muertos also includes traditional dishes, such as chicken in red or black mole sprinkled with sesame seeds; tortillas, tamales made from ground corn; soft drinks or aguardiente (“white-lightning” liquor),tequila and always a glass of water. It is believed that the returning souls are thirsty after a long journey. Water is also believed to be a main support of life. 

The flower of the dead is called Cempasúchil (Náhuatl, or Aztec, name for marigold) or “Flor de Muerto” (Spanish for Flower of Dead) and symbolizes the beauty and fragility of life. Cempasúchil was the symbolic flower of death for the Aztecs, because once it is cut, it dies very quickly. 

Marigolds are believed to be the pathways that guide the spirits to their ofrendas. The flower’s vibrant colors and scent attract the departed souls, as they return to feast on their favorite foods. While orange and yellow marigolds are the main flowers, magenta terciopelo (ruby coxcombs) and nube (baby’s breath) are also traditionally displayed. 

Copal (tree resin) is used as incense and is a symbolic transformation of the physical to the supernatural, associated with the death of the soul returning to the ofrenda. 

Candles and fresh marigold flowers are placed on the altar to light and guide the way of the souls to the altar. Paths are marked with flower petals showing the departed souls the way to the altar. Day of the Dead toys are also placed on the altar. Painted clay skeleton figures portray the dead resuming their normal activities such as playing. Pull toys, coffins and crank boxes are displayed for the dead to play with. Living with death in this way means that we can learn learn to accept death as part of life. 

(Sources: Day of the Dead Festival & Day of the Dead Holiday) 

How will YOU celebrate YOUR ancestors?

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