Celebrating the Mexican Holiday
The Days of the Dead
Every autumn Monarch Butterflies, which have summered up north in the United States and Canada, return to Mexico for the winter protection of the oyamel fir trees. The local inhabitants welcome back the returning butterflies, which they believe bear the spirits of their departed. These are the spirits to be honored during Los Dias de los Muertos.
Los Dias de los Muertos, the Days of the Dead, is a traditional Mexico holiday honoring the dead. It is celebrated every year at the same time as Halloween and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd). Los Dias de los Muertos is not a sad time, but instead a time of remembering and rejoicing.
The townspeople dress up as ghouls, ghosts, mummies and skeletons and parade through the town carrying an open coffin. The "corpse" within smiles as it is carried through the narrow streets of town. The local vendors toss oranges inside as the procession makes its way past their markets. Lucky "corpses" can also catch flowers, fruits, and candies.
In the homes families arrange ofrendas or "altars" with flowers, bread, fruit and candy. Pictures of the deceased family members are added. In the late afternoon special all night burning candles are lit - it is time to remember the departed - the old ones, their parents and grandparents.
The next day the families travel to the cemetery. They arrive with hoes, picks and shovels. They also carry flowers, candles, blankets, and picnic baskets. They have come to clean the graves of their loved ones. The grave sites are weeded and the dirt raked smooth. The Crypts are scrubbed and swept. Colorful flowers, bread, fruit and candles are placed on the graves. Some bring guitars and radios to listen to. The families will spend the entire night in the cemeteries.
Skeletons and skulls are found everywhere. Chocolate skulls, marzipan coffins, and white chocolate skeletons. Special loaves of bread are baked, called pan de muertos, and decorated with "bones.
Handmade skeleton figurines, called calacas, are especially popular. Calacas usually show an active and joyful afterlife. Figures of musicians, generals on horseback, even skeletal brides, in their white bridal gowns marching down the aisles with their boney grooms.
The celebration of Los Dias de los Muertos, like the customs of Halloween, evolved with the influences of the Celts, the Romans, and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, but with added influences from the Aztec people of Mexico.
The Aztecs believed in an afterlife where the spirits of their dead would return as hummingbirds and butterflies. Even images carved in the ancient Aztec monuments show this belief - the linking the spirits of the dead and the Monarch butterfly.
Vocabulario de Los Días de los Muertos
el altar de la ofrenda - the altar of the offering
el altar de muertos - the offering prepared for the deceased
el angelito - the little angel (used to refer to the soul of a child)
el arco - the arch (sometimes placed on the grave or on the altar)
el atole - the hot drink made of corn, water and fruit flavorings
la calaca en papel maché - the paper maché figure
el candelero - the candlestick
las caretas - the masks worn to scare off the spirits at the end of the celebration
el cempasúchil (cempazúchil) - the Mexican marigold
el flor de muertos - the flower of the dead (another name for the cempsúchil)
el copal - the incense
la cruz -the cross
la danza de los viejitos - the dance of the old people (a humorous dance in which the dancers wear masks of old people)
el Día de los Muertos - the Day of the Dead
el Día de los Angelitos – the Day of the little Angels el Día Todos los Santos - All Saints’Day
los dulces - the candies
las flores - the flowers
los gollettes - the doughnut-shaped breads, with pink sugar on them, that are placed on the altar
la guitarra - the guitar
el tambor - the drum
la iluminación - the illumination (the ceremony in the cemetery, during which hundreds of lit candles are thought to guide the deceased souls to their altars)
los mariachis - the Mexican musicians
la mariposa - the butterfly
la máscara- the mask
el mole - the thick sauce made from chilis, sesame seeds, spices, chocolate and fruit (a food typically eaten for this holiday, as well as many other special days)
la Noche de Duelo - the night of sorrow (November 1)
las ofrendas - the offerings
el pan de los muertos - the bread of the dead
el papel picado- the paper cut-out
los serapes - the Mexican blankets
Todos Santos - All Saints, the religious holiday that extends from October 31- November 2
el cementerio - the cemetery la tumba- the grave el ataúd - the coffin el esqueleto - the skeleton
las calacas - the skeletal figures that represent death
la calavera - the skull
las Calaveras - the songs and poems written about the festival
las catrinas - the skeletons, dressed like rich women, who represent death la calavera de azúcar - the sugar skull
List from: http://www.brighthub.com/education/languages/articles/49969.aspx