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Day of the Dead: A Unique Understanding of Death

Al Jazeera News
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November 2, 2017
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The Oaxacan town of Juchitan de Zaragoza in southern Mexico holds elaborate celebrations every year for the "Dia de los Muertos", or the "Day of the Dead". But this year, there's a somber mood. (Al Jazeera English)

Every year, Mexicans gather in cemeteries to remember their departed family members. According to tradition, heaven opens on November 1 and 2 and the souls of the dead come back to earth.

Today Google dedicates a doodle to this commemoration.



A hybrid of Spanish Catholic and pre-Columbian traditions, Day of the Dead has become one of the most important celebrations, revealing what many believe to be a uniquely Mexican understanding of death.

Relatives will offer food, drinks and even toys on altars to entice the souls on holiday. The living and the dead are believed to share the meals together.

In many parts of Mexico, familes spent November 1 remembering the children, often referred to as angelitos (little angels), decorating their grave sites with toys and balloons, and on November 2, they celebrate the All Souls day, dedicated to the adults who have died.

During the celebration, families will decorate the graves; most will visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are and decorate them with ofrendas (altars). The place will also have the flowers of cempasuchil (Marigold), as these are believed to help lead spirits back from the cemetery to their family homes.

... The festivity is a national holiday in Mexico, but it is also celebrated in Brazil, Spain, The Philippines and parts of the US.

UNESCO declared the festivity a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Octavio Paz, one of Mexico's most famous writers, noted: "The Mexican … is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates with it. He thinks of it as his favorite plaything and his most lasting love."

"At least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain or irony," he wrote.

Read the rest at Al Jazeera

Related: In Photos: This Is How Mexico City Does Día de los Muertos (Everfest)

Related: Mexico's Celebrated Día de Los Muertos Evolves in the U.S. (NPR)

Related: What Ancient Cultures Teach Us About Grief, Mourning and Continuity of Life (The Conversation)


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