The Day of the Dead
Instead of mourning the dead, Mexicans celebrate the memory of their deceased relatives with a festive holiday, El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The roots of this celebration go back for countless generations, long before the Spanish Conquest, to the ancient holiday of Mictecacihuatl, the guardian-goddess of the dead, whom many of the original Mexicans celebrated around the month of August.
The Spanish shifted the date to November 1 to coincide with the Catholic religion’s observation of All Saint’s Day. Eventually a second day, November 2, was added. Today, folks celebrate November 2 all over Mexico, and most intensely in the indigenous southeast regions of Michoacán, Guerrero, Chiapas, and the entire state of Oaxaca. While it’s best known as El Día de los Muertos, it’s also sometimes called El Día de los Angelitos, or Day of the Little Angels.
El Día de los Muertos amounts to a joyous reunion of all family members — both living and dead. At the end of October, people gather in their hometowns and villages to reunite with their loved ones.
By the afternoon of November 1, preparations are well under way. People converge on the cemeteries, clean up the gravesites, and polish the tombstones. They scatter flower petals and burn candles to mark the path.
By early evening on November 2, everything is ready. The graves are festooned with a collection of fruit and glowing candles, and decorated with flowers and dishes loaded with the favorite foods of the deceased. Most important, everyone has arrived. As the evening wears on, people curl up beneath blankets and spend the night in a happy vigil to welcome their departed loved ones back into the family fold once again.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition