Día de los Muertos - Day of the Dead - in Pilsen, Chicago
It’s believed that on the Day of the Dead, the border between the spirit world and the real world dissolves. This happens on October 31st through November 2nd, as those are the days when the deceased are granted “permission” to visit this human world.
If you wondering how it is possible, a very easy and fun way to get acquainted with Mexican traditions of the Día de los Muertos is through Disney Pixar's animated movie "Coco" (2017).
The celebration is unimaginable without the cempasúchil — the Aztec name of the marigold flower native to Mexico. The fragrance of the bright orange and yellow flowers is said to lead souls from their burial place to their family homes.
The most prominent symbols related to the Day of the Dead are calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls). In the early 20th century, the printer and cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada incorporated skeletal figures in his art mocking politicians and commenting on revolutionary politics. His most well-known work, La Calavera Catrina, or Elegant Skull, features a female skeleton adorned with makeup and dressed in fancy clothes. The 1910 etching was intended as a statement about Mexicans adopting European fashions over their own heritage and traditions. La Calavera Catrina was then adopted as one of the most recognizable Day of the Dead icons.
During contemporary Day of the Dead festivities, people commonly wear skull masks and eat sugar candy molded into the shape of skulls. The pan de ánimas of All Souls Day rituals in Spain is reflected in pan de muerto, the traditional sweet baked good of Day of the Dead celebrations today. Other food and drink associated with the holiday, but consumed year-round as well, include spicy dark chocolate and the corn-based drink called atole.
A celebration of the Day of the Dead consists of visiting cemeteries and preparing altars at home or in public spaces with food and drink for the souls of those who departed before us. Ancestors of Maya in the Yucatan peninsula follow the old Mayan traditions and celebrate Hanal Pixán (“food for the souls” in Mayan) more privately; the altar is more likely to be in a home rather than on a grave or tomb. As such, the displays you’ll see will resemble a small village scene.
During this brief period, the souls of the dead awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with their loved ones. In turn, the living family members treat the deceased as honored guests in their celebrations, and leave the deceased’s favorite foods and other offerings at grave sites or on the ofrendas (offerings) built in their homes. Ofrendas can be decorated with candles, bright marigolds, food and favorite items of the dead.
As you can see in the pictures below, in my beloved Pilsen, Chicago neighborhood with deep Mexican roots, the school stadium was temporarily converted into the graveyard where everyone could honor their loved ones with offerings and live music. As DJ Ricardo confessed, that night he made many people cry while playing the favorite songs of the deceased.
You can feel love in the air: it is so real and so contagious. One grave can be shared by many people one loved and obviously still loves: family members, friends, celebrities and even pets. It is enough room for everyone.
Next to the graveyard vendors were selling different items with the images of the Day of the Dead, some people playing music, others dancing. The life continues…
Traditionally, for many years the Day of the Dead was celebrated largely in the more rural, indigenous areas of Mexico. In 2008 UNESCO added Mexico’s “Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead” to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.