Day of the Dead: Mexicans prepare to welcome the dearly departed

World Today

Mexicans are getting ready to celebrate the ‘Day of the Dead.’ It comes one day after Halloween and is an ancient Mesoamerican holiday that remembers friends and family who have died.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras has more on this colorful tradition, the first in a three-part series.

The essence of this traditional ritual will take place in hundreds of cemeteries across Mexico. Families will be reunited briefly with their dearly departed.

Day of the Dead is widely considered the most Mexican of all holidays. Mexicans believe during two days in November, they reunite with their dead family members and loved ones.

Altars– called ofrendas – are decorated with photos of the deceased. Offerings include their favorite foods and drinks– along with these aromatic flowers called cempasuchil, which ancient civilizations used to guide the dead back to the land of the living.

Traveling 160 km outside of Mexico City, we arrive at a rural area near an active volcano. Here it’s harvest time and soon the flowers in this field in the state of Puebla will be sent to giant markets Mexico City, where they’ll be bought and sold.

The mixture of commerce and traditions comes just in time for Day of the Dead.

For decades, Cempasuchil producer Rodolfo Juarez and his family have made a living by growing and selling these flowers. Along with being a main source of income, Juarez said he also produces the flowers as a way of protecting this ancient Mexican tradition.

“We should maintain and keep our cultural identity intact. I think the way we do this is by passing it onto the next generations. So that they will follow these important and beautiful traditions. In this way, we will keep our identity alive,” Juarez said.

While many European cultures might consider cemeteries sad places, Mexicans see them as an opportunity to reconnect with the dead.

Most ancient Mesoamerican cultures had special ceremonies designed to commemorate their dead.

Over the centuries, these rituals have found find their way into Mexican popular culture. There’s a blending of Indigenous ceremonies with Europeans traditions – producing what we now call Day of the Dead.

“There is always a dialogue – between life and death. Ancient Mexicans saw them as the key forces of creation in the cosmos. It’s like the Ying and Yang. Life and death are both formative in human existence,” Anthropologist Eric Mendoza Luján said.

In rural Mexico, traditional Day of the Dead ceremonies are still alive and well. And they last for two days – November first, for remembering children who died. And November second– for adults.

Maria Nabor Andres is an indigenous Mazahua woman from nearby Mexico State. She’s come to Mexico City to sell traditional flowers and said her home is ready to receive her deceased loved ones, who will return and spend the day with her.

She said, “When I make my offering back in my rural hometown, I place the flowers in the shape of a heart. I place a photo of my dead family member inside it. Then we bring tropical fruits – like guayabas and plantains. Finally, we add the flowers.”

In recent decades, Day of the Dead traditions have undergone a transformation. Now the influence of Halloween from the United States is making its way into the mix and some see the clash of cultures as a threat.