Day of the Dead: What Is It?

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One of the things I love about living in America is becoming familiar with traditions outside of my own. A couple of years ago, I went on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. I was greeted by what I now know is called, “Sugar Skulls”. I LOVE color and these Sugar Skulls had it! After our introduction in Mexico (of course I bought a couple), I have been noticing them all over the place. You know how it is…my curiosity lead to research and I just can’t keep it to myself…you’re welcome.

Sugar Skulls are just one small component of a holiday: Day of the Dead. It’s possible that this holiday goes back 2,000 – 3,000 years, to the Aztec time period. Part of the festivities included worshiping the female goddess, “Lady of the Dead”. Here in the 21st century, the holiday coincides with Allhallowtide and  is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. The 1st is dedicated to honoring children and infants who have passed while the 2nd is dedicated to honoring deceased adults.

Interestingly, the holiday was not celebrated in northern Mexico until the 21st century, although the origin of the holiday itself is thousands of years old. Initially, the holiday was not accepted in this area because of its pagan origins. In our current century, the Mexican government declared Day of the Dead a national holiday, hoping to unite northern and southern Mexico with a common, national tradition.

You can observe Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico, Europe, Latin America, Oceania, the Philippines, and America. Each location celebrates with their own flavor but it all ties into honoring the dead and ones ancestors.

Day of the Dead is not necessarily a ‘fun’ holiday that’s observed once a year. For some indigenous families, Day of the Dead is a small window in time when one might connect with deceased loved ones. These families will spend  two month’s wages to build alters to honor their dead. In return, they believe the deceased will bless them with protection, good luck and wisdom.

Regarding the alters, one is made in each home. They are laden with candles, flowers, food, candy and toys. Adult spirits are offered cigarettes and shots of alcohol.

The Sugar Skulls were brought to the New World, uh–that’s us, by Italian missionaries in the 1600s.  No, the missionaries did not bring the Sugar Skulls to the Mexicans…but they brought the art of turning sugar into candy. Once the Mexicans mastered this tasty art, they  were able to create the Sugar Skull. Interestingly, traditional Sugar Skull foreheads bear the name of the deceased loved one, and is then placed on the alter with the offerings.

For me, the Sugar Skills and Day of the Dead art are beautiful to look at but now I am glad to know that for many people, this colorful art has a much deeper and spiritual meaning.

Writer Bio

CJ Heath is a lover art and of anything colorful. She also loves spirituality, and being connected to Him and our Loved Ones, whether they are still earth-bound or not. She also likes candy and will hunt a true candy Sugar Skull on her next trip to Cozumel.

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