I would like to start by pointing out that the Day of the Dead has gained international recognition, especially over the last four years. There was a scene in Spectre, the James Bond film, that gave the world a glance of our culture. Disney also gave a pretty insightful, (and also fantastic) look at the family reunions of Día de Muertos with the film Coco. The first movie I mentioned gave Mexico City a parade we did not use to have. The second showed how important family is in our culture.
Traditions of Día de Muertos
Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican celebration that takes place on November 1st and 2nd in which we remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. This tradition is as old as pre-hispanic culture. The Aztecs dedicated some days to remember the dead and the journey they had to go through to be one with the universe. When the American conquest happened, this tradition combined with the Catholic holiday, All Souls’ Day. As a result, we now have a hybrid holiday of pre-hispanic culture and a European religious celebration. It is a mix that perfectly represents Mexican history.
Tradition of Ofrenda
When I was a child, the way to begin commemorating those two days of November was to put an ofrenda (altar) in a place that faced the main door of a house. This is so the spirit of the person visiting could find the food and drinks or whatever they loved while alive. This offering, most of the time, is bread, food, fruits, cigarettes, water, alcohol, flowers, and pictures. During the first day, it is a tradition that the children are the ones to visit their relatives. Adults come during the second day.
The Community and Día de Muertos
The school I work at is traditional in itself; this is because it is around 250 years old, making a contribution to education in downtown Mexico City. The Day of the Dead is an important celebration for the institution. Every year, a specific group of the school puts together an ofrenda. Just as in a household, the altar is dedicated to somebody; this year it was for the Basque community that founded the school. The participation of students is vital, for the ofrenda is open to the public.
Día de Muertos Carries Deep Traditions
For those who might not know, in September 2017, Mexico suffered a terrible earthquake. After having experienced an event that brought the entire city closer to death, the students proposed holding a parade at school in which they would dress up as Catrinas or Catrines. These characters are a representation of death. We like to make them familiar to our reality because, at the end of the day, everybody is going to die. One does not know how or when, but it will eventually happen. The parade is a celebration of life. It is a reminder that we can die any day at any time. However, we choose to embrace the fact that death is part of life and we are happy to be alive.