In this article we will talk about the origins of the Day of the Dead. This Mexican holiday where family and friends gather to celebrate their loved one's death. This celebration begins on the evening of October 31 and lasts until November 2. It allows the soul to join their family for 24 hours. It is well known throughout the world. It has its origins among many different celebrations. The mixture of Aztec and Spanish culture has created one of the most beautiful celebrations in honor of the deceased.
Dia de los muertos was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, making it a true world cultural treasure. Read these few lines to get an idea of this richness.
Origin of the Mexican Day of the Dead, a Cultural Mix
The Mesoamerican civilization and their ritual dates back 3000 years. Life was considered a dream while death was real life. The celebration of the dead was important to the aztec. They considered everything to be balance, the sun and the moon, water and earth, life and death etc... We all know the importance of sacrifices for this empire, but few know the cemetery and ceremony around the dead.
The Aztecs celebrated two major rites to honor their ancestors. One was dedicated to children (Miccaihuitontli) and the other to adults (Hueymiccalhuitl). The one for the children took place 20 days before.
In the Aztec belief there are, contrary to modern societies, several different destinations after death. There are actually 3 distinct locations depending on the cause of death. Well yes, the aztec do not believe in heaven and hell as we do, but rather that the destination of the deceased is chosen according to the cause of death which allowed him to reach different gods. We recall in this respect that the aztec were a polytheistic civilization. To learn more about the Aztec religion we advise you to read this article.
During the death ceremony the bodies were either buried or cremated depending on the cause of death. The families, as for her, had to make offerings to the gods to accompany their relatives. A dog was also sacrificed as a guide and protector for the journey of the deceased. They also had to make these offerings for 80 days so that the deceased would not return to haunt the living.
The commemoration of the dead is not directly linked to the Feast of the Dead. It's just at the forefront of Christian commemoration. They consisted of many feasts of bonfires as well as dances.
For Christians the destination after life is defined by good or bad deeds. Many people think that the feast of the dead is All Saints' Day, but in fact it is the day after. For many countries All Saints' Day has become a holiday, the 1st of November. Therefore it is the day that has been chosen by people to go to the cemetery to honour their dead.
The Commemoration of the Faithful Deceased for Catholics takes place on November 2nd. It can be postponed to the next day if the 2nd is a Sunday. The Sunday being reserved for Mass for the Glory of God to help souls in Purgatory to reach heaven.
Some pagan custom was incorporated by the Roman church. In Spain families brought flowers, pan de animas (bread of the spirits) and wine to the cemetery. They lit the way to their homes with candles.
Dia de los Muertos in Mexico
Following the conquest of Mexico by the conquistadors, they wanted to implement the Christian religion. Contrary to other colonies, they were in very small numbers made at the aztec. To avoid a culture shock. They opted for a mix of traditions in order to make them gradually switch to Christianity. What mixed after several years, mixed the mortuary traditions at the same time.
As a result, the tombs are decorated with candles and flowers as the Spaniards used to do. The altars are made at home with offerings as the Aztecs used to do. On these altars are placed the pan de muerto which comes directly from the Spanish pan de animas. Flower petals to the home replaced the candles. The carnival takes place at the pagan origin of the Catholic Day of the Dead.
To learn more about: How Dia de los Muertos feast is celebrated? read our article.
This mix has withstood the test of time and has now become a world cultural treasure. Aztec Culture and Spanish Catholic Culture ended up creating one of the most wonderful celebrations of the dead. More than a celebration of the dead, it is a celebration of the living. Family and friends come together to remember the good times spent at the side of their loved ones.