Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is the amalgamations of Aztec customs with those of the catholic conquistadores. Contrary to popular belief Dia de los Muertos is not a Mexican version of Halloween, but rather a holiday that celebrates the memory of family members who have passed away. The holiday is treated with an utmost sense of respect so much so that UNESCO has added it to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity in 2008. So to pay our respects to this most famous of Mexican holidays we have compiled a list of 10 facts you may not know about Dia de los Muertos.
Mexicans know how to embrace death
Mexico is famous for its bright outlook on death, and it is this optimism that lies at the heart of Dia de los Muertos. First thing you should know is that the holiday is spread out over two days, November 1-2, it is believed that on the first day children that have died will return to their parents, and the second day sees the return of adults. And the holiday is all about the celebration of loved ones that have passed. Octavio Paz, the Mexican winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in literature, puts it like this: "The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it, it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love."
There's a dance which sees people dress up as old men
The Danza de los Viejitos, sees young men dress up and walk around liked hunched old men, however as the music picks up pace they suddenly jump up in a frenzied, energetic dance. Another traditional dance is La Danza de los Tecuanes, or The Dance of the Jaguars, which sees people dawn the clothes of farmworkers and reenact a choreographed jaguar hunt.
Every 'ofrenda' is comprised of four elements
An ofrenda is a temporary altar that families build to honor their dead loved ones and give them the things that they might need in the next life. According to tradition every ofrenda has to have parts which represent the four elements - water, earth, air and fire. Water is left near the altar in order to quench the thirst of the spirit. Food offerings are meant to represent earth. Air is represented by paper banners, and fire is represented by candles. You may also often see a statue of a dog - Xoloitzcuintl - which is meant to guide the spirit to the next life.
Skulls are not meant to be morbid
Unlike during Halloween, the skull decorations of Dia de los Muertos are used as a whimsical reminder of the cyclical nature of life. It is with this in mind that relatives leave Calaveritas de azucar, or sugar skulls, on altars as treats for the children that have died.
It is believed that butterflies carry souls of the dead
Monarch butterflies are believed the carriers of the souls of the departed. This association comes from the butterflies' migration habits which usually see them arrive to Mexico just in time for the November 1 celebrations.