When the Spanish Conquistadors dropped anchor in “The New World” more than 500 years ago, they discovered natives that seem to mock death.
The bizarre Aztec ceremonies had been practiced for at least 3,000 years. But the Spaniards were unfamiliar, deemed it pagan blasphemy, and banned it.
The ritual was Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Today it is a national holiday in Mexico on November 1 and 2 and has enjoyed soaring popularity throughout the United States.
And it is NOT Halloween, although there are similarities. Day of the Dead focuses on celebrating the memories of loved ones that have passed on.
While customs vary widely, the idea is the same: friends and relatives go to cemeteries to celebrate their loved ones. They paint their faces to resemble skulls, build altars at the gravesides and decorate them with bright orange marigold flowers, candles, photos and memorabilia.
The pre-deceased often sit on blankets next to gravesides and feast on the favorite foods of their dearly departed friends. Toys are brought for children who have passed and bottles of tequila or cerveza (beer) for adults. The libations are often poured onto the grass above graves for the deceased to enjoy. Pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones is passed around. Candied sugar skulls, with the names of the dead person written on the forehead, are eaten by loved ones. Often the proceedings last into the next day.
Their hope is to encourage visits by the souls that have passed so they will hear the prayers of the living. Celebrations are joyful and often humorous, as the living share funny events and anecdotes about the departed.