Mexican Culture: Day of the Dead

Hola Arkansas Staff Little Rock, AR

The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is an annual holiday that's rituals and celebrations have their origins in the indigenous cultures of Mexico. It is always celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November. On the 1st, people celebrate the lives of lost children, and on the 2nd they celebrate the spirits of adults.

Many people confuse the Day of the Dead with the American holiday, Halloween, because of how close they are on the calendar. However,Día de los Muertos,, is much more a celebration of life, rather than death. It is believed that on this day, spirits of lost family members and loved ones can come back to communicate with the living and everyone tells stories and anecdotes from when they were alive.

Originally, this holiday was a month long celebration in the 9th month of the Aztec calendar year. The ceremonies were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl, or the Lady of the Dead, who is believed to have died at birth.

All of the rituals were a celebration of life, for the Aztecs didn't believe death was the end, but rather the beginning, and that before death everything is a dream. When the Spaniards that came and conquered these ancient tribes discovered this holiday, they believed it to be sacrilegious and tried to banish it. However, the ritual remained and the Spaniards were forced to acknowledge it. They moved it to the beginning of November to coincide with the Catholic holiday All Saints' Day, in an attempt to make it a Christian holiday as opposed to pagan.

Specifics of the celebration vary with region, but one of the most common customs is the making of elaborate altars to welcome departed spirits home. Vigils are held, and families often go to cemeteries to fix up the graves of their departed relatives. Festivities also frequently include traditional foods such as pan de muerto, bread of the dead, which can conceal a miniature skeleton, and the altar that is made up as follows. Is placed on a table or shelf whose levels represent strata of existence. The most common are the altars of two levels, representing heaven and earth, however, the three tiered altars added to this view the concept of purgatory. In turn, on an altar of seven levels are symbolized the steps necessary to get to heaven so they can rest in peace. In its development should consider certain basic elements that invite the spirit to travel from the world of the dead to live together with their families that day.

The Altar must bear the image of the deceased, a cross that can be salt or ashes, the image of the souls in purgatory, copal to cleanse and purify the energy, environment hallows incense, lemons bow and marigold flower, paper dive that is the representation of the festive joy of Day of the Dead and wind, sails considered guiding light in this world, in purple and white, and they mean mourning and purity, water that reflects the purity of the soul, flowers, skulls, food, bread and alcoholic beverages, traditionally in a shot of Tequila.


To celebrate the Mexican culture, the Little Rock Zoo will be celebrating the Dia de los Muertos Friday, November 1st from 6pm to 9pm, admission $10 per person. There will be a Dia de los Muertos Parade, a Customs Contest, give aways and an Altars Contest. To participate in the Altars Contest call Maura Lozano-Yancy at 501-563-9961 or by email [email protected] For additional information, visit www.LittleRockZoo.com or www.Hola-Arkansas.com

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