Dia De Los Meurtos (or Day of the Dead) is known worldwide as the one of the biggest celebrations of the dead. Festivals, food, flowers and a tonne of skulls and make-up turn the taboo subject of death as we know it in the West into a fun, colourful and completely opposite method of dealing with loss. But is the traditional celebration spectacular or just plain spooky? This year with the children at Mision Mexico, we’ll find out!
Four fun facts that you didn’t know about Día de los Muertos:
- Día de los Muertos is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd November, not on 31st October! Although the theme is death and it’s closely celebrated near Halloween, the traditions and customs are extremely different. Mexicans create altars (la ofrenda) in their homes and cemeteries to invite their lost ones back down to earth for a huge celebration of their lives! There’s no mourning, fear or sadness, just love, joy and laughter! This is incredibly important for our children also and a lovely way to help with trauma and loss.
- Who knows what the food is like in Heaven? Just in case the departed might be missing out on their favourite meals, families make sure to provide heaps of food, drinks and all their loved ones’ favourite things as an offering. It’s also believed that the food will help with the tiredness of travelling from the heavens and back. Pan de meurto and pan dulce (bread of the dead and sweet bread) is usually offered along with atole (sweet porridge) and sugar skulls.
- Cemeteries are filled with families, flowers and candles which sounds similar to ours in the west, but you’ll find the atmosphere and behaviour to be in extreme contrast. Children run around playing and families laugh as they share fond memories together. People are at one with death. Life and death come together in the most colourful and uplifting way.
- As well as being a fun activity for the day (for the kids and us!), the popular sugar skull face painting has real meaning behind it. Calaveras and Careinas were originally worn and painted on to warn off death. And the holiday itself is an indigenous tradition and recognised by UNESCO.
At Mision Mexico, we encourage and celebrate these important traditions and celebrations. “Our altar is still up, and every morning the kids light the candles and have a moment to think about those who have passed. They also spend the day trying to set fire to sticks and paper, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a countrywide tradition!” – Melissa, Fundraising and Events Manager
So, spooky or spectacular? I think… Spectacular! How incredible and beautiful to be so at peace with one of the most natural things on the planet. It’s perfect for family time and bringing each other closer to celebrate and remember those we once walked the earth with. And also, a magical time to visit the spectacular country of Mexico!
Interested in the dead like I am?
Read my blog about living with the dead in Indonesia. Another fascinating but amazing way of coping with loss and celebrating loved ones along with being one of my most unforgettable travel experiences! https://vanishamay.com/2017/04/28/living-with-the-dead-could-you-do-it/
Interested in volunteering at Mision Mexico?
You can apply at firstname.lastname@example.org! We’d love to hear from you! Must be over 21 and willing to commit for 6 weeks minimum.
Thanks for reading!
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Photograph credits to previous volunteers at Mision Mexico**