Despite its macabre name, día de los muertos or day of the dead is about celebrating. On the 1st and 2nd of November the life of family members and friends that have passed away is remembered. To honour the dead, graves are colourfully decorated with offerings or ofrendas at home or in public places and altars are created. Flowers, food and drinks are placed for decoration, and even music is played to honour the dead, and most importantly to encourage their souls to visit the earth.
Día de los muertos is especially an important festival in Mexico where it originated. Although in other Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Ecuador or Brazil similar celebrations take place. In Mexico every region has its own traditions, but in most regions the 1st of November is the day the spirits of the angelitos, the children, visit the earth. The 2nd of November is when deceased adults are honoured.
The aim of the decorations and the music is to encourage visits by the souls of deceased friends and family so they can hear the stories, prayers, and comments made by their loved ones at earth. For children toys and candies are put as ofrenda to encourage their spirits to visit, and for adult spirits it’s common to find alcoholic beverages like mezcal or tequila placed as ofrenda or their favourite music will be played at their grave.
Besides a collection of the deceased’s favourite things, there are some typical decorations used for día de los muertos. Calaveras or skulls appear everywhere and are often portrayed as enjoying life. The most famous calavera is Catrina, the lady of the death. Also candy skulls or sweet bread pan de muertos are added to altars. This bread can either be plain round, but often it represents a skull or is decorated with icing to make it look like a bone. Finally, orange or yellow Mexican marigold flowers are included in offerings as it is believed the scent helps bring the loved ones home.
In the end, the idea behind día de los muertos is that dead is part of the cycle of life. And what better way is there than celebrating it in a joyous way?
Día de Independencia or independence day is a national holiday that’s celebrated in Central America on the 15th of September to commemorate the beginning of the war of independence. This war started on the 16th of September in 1810 in Guanajuato, Mexico, when the priest Miguel Hidalgo called for the end of the Spanish rule. With the grito de la independencia or the cry of independence, Hidalgo encouraged the people to revolt against the Spanish colonial rule. At that time Mexico and the other countries of Central America (except Panama) formed part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain established following the Spanish conquest in 1521. However, Mexico was the only country that fought for independence. The rebellion started by Hidalgo led to a long and bloody war which took a decade before Spain declared Mexico and the other Central American countries independent in 1821.
Independence and la patria
The start of the war is commemorated yearly in all Central American countries from Mexico until Costa Rica. While in most countries the focus is on parades, student activities, and assemblies, in Mexico día de independencia is a big fiesta with food, music, and fireworks. Because it’s all about the patria or the fatherland, the weeks before half of September national symbols arise everywhere. The public and national buildings are decorated, street vendors are selling national symbols in all kinds, and the public squares are cleaned and prepared for entertainment.
The Mexican fiesta
In Mexico on the evening of the 15th of September which is called el Día del Grito, the celebrations are started. Traditionally around 11 o’clock in the evening the president rings the bell of the national palace at the central square zócalo in Mexico City. After that he will speak the grito de dolores mentioning the names of the important heroes of the Mexican War of Independece, and the speech is ended shouting ¡Viva México! three times. Often the public adds cabrones to it. After this the president waves the Mexican flag followed by the playing and singing of the national anthem. Then it’s fiesta time, and the party continues until dawn. For the people without hangover or cruda, the following morning on the 16th of September which is the Day of Independence the military performs a parade starting from the zócalo and passing by Hidalgo Memorial and other main places in Mexico City.