Every year, Mexicans gather in cemeteries to remember their departed family members. According to tradition, the heavens open on November 1 and 2 and the souls of the dead come back to earth.
Relatives will offer food, drinks and even toys on alters to entice the souls in a holiday which melds Catholic and Aztec beliefs and imagery. The living and the dead are believed to share the meals together.
“It is an unique opportunity to meet with your own relatives again and share memories with those who are no longer here,” Maria J Andrade, a journalist who has written several books related to the celebration, told Al Jazeera.
Families usually spend November 1 remembering deceased children, often referred to as angelitos (little angels), decorating their gravesites with toys and balloons. November 2 (all Souls’ day) is dedicated to those adults who have died.
“This is a celebration, the sadness is there when our relatives died, but during this day we have to show them that we remember them with happiness,” Yoroslay Delgado said, describing the celebration. “We dance, we sing, they need to feel they are welcome.”
While the day is a national holiday in Mexico, the festival is also celebrated in Brazil, Spain, the Philippines and parts of the US.
“The Day of the Death is a pre-Hispanic tradition that comes from the indigenous communities, this was celebrated in Mexico and in some other Latin- American countries before the Spanish conquest,” Andrade said.
In 2003, UNESCO declared that the Day of the Dead was a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Octavio Paz, one of Latin America’s most famous writers, noted: ¨The Mexican… is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates with it… at least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience disdain or irony.”