Day of the Dead
All Saints’ Day Festivities
What is the Day of the Dead?
Since pre-Columbian times, the cult to death has been part of Mexican communities, and is part of life’s duality. The Day of the Dead tradition started in the Colonial period as part of a religious syncretism and takes place on the first days of November.
On November 1, according to Catholic tradition, there is the celebration of All Saint’s Day, and each person who died and reached eternal life is remembered, even though they may not all be saints or blessed. Also, there are prayers for all of those who passed away as children. On November 2 is All Souls’ Day, and people pray for each soul that hasn’t entered paradise yet.
As Mexicans, we honor our dead by visiting their last place of rest and preparing altars at home. The spirits of our beloved come back to this world for a couple of days and stay close to us.
What can we find on an altar during the Day of the Dead?
The altars have food, candles, incense, liquor, flowers, photos, sugar skulls, special bread, and belongings of the deceased. Offerings are made respectfully by the family to remember those who are gone. Drawings and verses that poke fun at dead and living personalities of the arts, science or politics are part of this tradition, and refer to the popular saying, “The deceased to the coffin, and the living to the party.”
What is the goal of the Festival?
The Festival of the Life and Death Traditions recovers traditions from several communities during the Day of the Dead and it is an opportunity to showcase and pay tribute to customs that have lasted for generations, while it infuses this celebration with contemporary art expressions. Through art and cultural pieces, the traditions of this significant date stay alive.
Indigenous holidays dedicated to the deceased
Throughout Mexico, indigenous communities honor the spirits of their loved ones as a tradition passed on from one generation to another since ancient times. These customs have allowed a genuine bond between community members, plus being a reason to be proud.
Although each of the over 60 indigenous groups in Mexico that keep traditions alive has unique features, all of them have contributed to enrich Mexican culture. Their ceremonies are a significant piece of identity for everybody in this country.
The Mayan death cult and the contemporary practice of the Hanal Pixán
The Mayan culture also had an interest in the concept of death, just as the rest of the ancient ethnic groups in Mesoamerica. Before and nowadays Mayans have agreed that the deceased endure, and their spirits need nourishment, just as the living.
It's a custom to cook the favorite meals of the dead relatives so they can refuel energies and make the trip back to the other side. Hanal Pixán is the result of religious syncretism between Mayan traditions, the Catholic holiday of All Saint’s Day and the All Souls’ Day liturgy.
Hanal Pixán or Day of the Dead is one of the most devoted traditions in the Yucatán Peninsula since it gathers families. In this time of the year, all the members of a family contribute to the festivity, and the spirits of their beloved come back to be together again. These are some of the reasons why this tradition remains alive and passes from one generation to another.