Discover the story’s author
Leopoldo Gomez-Diaz is a retired Engineer from Mexico City who studied and taught at the
Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM), and worked for 40 years for The Mexican Petroleum Institute. He also got a Master’s at
Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in Management in Mexico City. He
has been in California since 2016. He enjoys writing essays, studying
English, learning Metaphysics, reading novels, hearing music, playing soccer, and drinking early coffee.
Read more stories written by the author at https://journals-times.com/2022/08/11/it-was-a-soccer-game-that-taught-me-many-valuable-life-lessons/
The Day of the Dead is a festivity.
Family and friends meet to remember friends and family members who have died, kids or adults. This festivity comes from the ancient Aztec festivals celebrating death, and of course, it has been updated with some current customs, like candles, mariachi music (watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jLkNnZVIbI), a lot of food sellers in the streets, or listening to radio music on the graves.
The first day of November is for Kids, and November the second is for Adults.
These two days’ festivities are dedicated and organized to the day of death. The main purpose is to honor the deceased, which can be done with “Ofrendas” (kind of home altars, check at https://dayofthedead.holiday/traditions/the-ofrenda/), that contain “Calaveras”(check for more info at https://www.alexandani.com/blogs/the-wire/history-and-symbolism-of-the-calavera), Cempasuchtil wildflowers, favorite food, and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves any time during the two days and nights.
The “Catrina Character” is the skeleton of a rich, and elegant woman, wearing a fancy long robe and a big plumed hat. She was designed by a very well-known Mexican artist (from Aguascalientes State), Jose Guadalupe Posadas. “Catrina” became famous because helps us to remember that we are all equal, death is in charge to teach us this.
When I was a young boy, in my neighborhood, in Mexico City, kids were asking for money during death celebrations. We designed and built our own “Calaveritas” as the best copy of a skull, using a lit candle inside the skull.
It was built with an empty shoe box, or with pumpkins, or with an empty can, or any other material that we could find. Our festivity has started since we were building our “Calaveritas” to go out.
Can you help my Calaverita? A tradition on the Day of the Dead
As soon as the night started, when darkness appeared, we walked the streets with our “Calaverita” in our hands looking for some people to ask for money, we usually said:
“Can you help my Calaverita?
And approached the lighted Skull, crossing our fingers, waiting for a coin, of course, the Skull had one hole in the upper side to allow the coins. Some other people wearing costumes, and with painted faces, like dead ones were doing the same, the competition to get first to the new walkers in the street. After 3 or 4 hours of walking, I became really tired. I could have also perceived the smell of a mixture of burned “Calaveritas”, flowers, food, and candies in the streets.”
Another type of “Calaverita”, The Funny Poetry Traditions
Calaverita is also another form of related activity, which is connected to writing poems for ancestors or dead people. That is written by poets, journalists, writers, or any other person with some writing skills.
It is kind of a funny poem about death, dedicated to somebody still alive or someone who has passed away already. Usually, these “Calaveritas” are written pointing out the most remarkable or the funniest qualities of the person in turn.
You can also write a “Calaverita” about love or friendship with someone special. I have written a few to my close relatives. You can read more about Calaverita at https://culturacolectiva.com/books/calaveritas-day-of-the-dead-poems/
Ofrendas” (Offerings) are made to honor their loved ones who have passed away.
During the death festivities, you can see, inside most houses, “Ofrendas” (Offerings) that are made to honor their loved ones who have passed away. A typical “Ofrenda” has mainly the photograph of the loved one, his / her favorite food, beverages, cigarettes if he/she has smoked during life, candles, tequila, or beer.
When the “Ofrenda” is for a kid, you could see a few toys and candies too.
Some “Ofrendas” are really spectacular, they are made by churches, museums, Government offices, or for some competitions. At home usually, we show a small “Ofrenda” with photographs of our parents. Our grandkids were very interested to see and understand the meaning of this Altar inside the house.
The tradition of visiting the graves on the Day of the Dead
People visit the pantheons with Cempasuchtil flowers, lit candles, food, and alcoholic drinks, some even with musicians, you can hear mariachi, or any other folkloric music alive. All these activities are done to honor and remember their loved ones that have gone.
This goes on all day and night, during the night is more spectacular because of the candlelight. You can smell the food, flowers, cigarettes smoke, and candle aromas, some more attractive than others.
You can feel the power, the energy, the sense to be part of all these people that have a strong belief in the spirit and souls of their departed loved ones, and share with them different emotions of sadness, joy, and happiness of being with the spirit of their loved ones, hoping and wishing that they have not left, that they are out there, everywhere, maybe right next to them.
A few other facts about Mexican Day of the Dead traditions
- There are other towns in Mexico that honor their loved ones for a longer time, for example in “La Husteca Hidalguense”, they have specific dates, for two months, not continuously. On the first day, September 29, they beg God to allow the dead to join the celebration with their relatives that are still alive, and on the last day of November, they say goodbye to their dead relatives.
- Nowadays, in the big cities, there is some American influence in these celebrations, rich neighborhoods are more related to the Halloween tradition, and the kids go to the streets asking for candies, using the same words as in the US, “Trick or Treat” with orange plastic pumpkins. Fortunately, the Mexican death traditions are still alive in most of the cities, and of course in the small towns too.
- Mexican traditions are kept in very different ways, in small towns, and in the cities, yet the influence of other cultures. The death festivity is very representative of the Mexicans’ way of thinking about life and death. It is truly impressive and engaging to see how people honor and show their respect, memories, and feelings to loved ones who have already passed away.
- It seems to me that during these holidays, death and life coexist, share, and enjoy, as if they were the same, for a while both forget each of their essences and walk together on the path that destiny has reserved for each one of us, or perhaps, because of the death is the beginning of something different and better.