To the indigenous peoples of Mexico, as in many other ancient cultures, death was considered the passage to a new life and so the deceased were buried with many of their personal objects, which they would need in the hereafter.
When the Spanish came to America, brought their own Day of the Dead celebrations Christian and European, where the dead are remembered on All Saints Day. The conversion of the natives of the New World, led to a syncretism that blended European and Hispanic traditions, matching the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls with Mesoamerican similar festival, creating the current Day of the Dead.
El Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is a very special ritual, since it is the day in which the living remember their departed relatives. Sometimes, when people of other cultures hear for the first time about the celebration of the Day of the Dead, they mistakenly think it must be: gruesome, terrifying, scary, ugly and sad. Nothing further from the truth; Day of the Dead is a beautiful ritual in which Mexicans happily and lovingly remember their loved relatives that have died.
People go to cemeteries and also builds altars at their homes, containing the favorite food and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia from the deceased.
The intent is to attract the souls and let them feel the love and hear the prayers and the memories from the living ones. Nice! Isn’t it?
The altar includes four main elements of nature — earth, wind, water, and fire.
- Earth is represented by crop: The Mexicans believe the souls are fed by the aroma of food.
- Wind is represented by a moving object: Tissue paper is commonly used to represent wind.
- Water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long journey to the altar.
- Fire is represented by a wax candle: Each lit candle represents a soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten ones.
In 2003 UNESCO distinguished this Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.