Mexicans greet their dead during day two of national ceremonies

Latin America

As living human beings, we all know that death is inevitable. Still, when family members or dear friends die, it can be one of the most painful moments we experience.

To help alleviate that sense of loss, Mexicans commemorate Day of the Dead  November 1 and 2.  Across the country, families are taking candles, flowers, foods and drinks to cemeteries.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports.

A sidewalk market in the working-class Mexico City neighborhood of Alamos fills with people who are shopping this day for items they will use to venerate the dead during Mexico’s ancient tradition called Day of the Dead.

It’s here in the public markets of the city where you can see this cultural blending take place: touches of pre-Hispanic Mexico mixing with European traditions and more recently, Halloween from the United States.

Vendors are selling ceramic incense holders, in which ancient Mesoamerican people used similar holders to burn tree resin called copal. They believed it cleanses souls.

Such traditional items are on sale,  alongside Halloween items. Francisco Santiago is 22-years-old. All his life, his family has been selling both. I ask him which ones he sells most.

 “What people ask for most are the sugar, chocolate and amaranth skulls,” Francisco said. “They also ask for crepe paper decorations. They also ask for decorative fruits and copal incenses, which is considered a link between the earth and the place of the dead.”

Anthropologist Martha Turok says all civilizations, from ancient to modern ones,  have been puzzled by death. “It’s one of the great questions humankind has asked itself since the beginning of time. One of the ways that culture is defined is the cult to death,” Turok said.

But culture has a way of transforming itself by adding pieces of the present. Take the 2015 James Bond film, “Spectre.” Until that movie was made, the parade never actually existed.

Inspired by the James Bond movie, Mexico City officials decided to have a parade as part of the capital’s Day of the Dead festivities.

Veronica Vivas is wearing a bright red Catrina costume, a character dating back to 1910 that satirizes the wealthy. “My family is from Puebla state and there they build very large offering altars in the cemeteries. I think we shouldn’t lose this tradition,” she said.

Some worry that the commercialization of Day of the Dead could hinder that.

“You turn it into more of a spectacle than a ritual. I think there are things that are going to change more and changes will be seen more in the urban scene than the rural and the indigenous,” said anthropologist Turok.

Even in more traditional communities, Mexican officials are working with residents to protect this long-standing cultural tradition, and they’re finding ways to use Day of the Dead to attract global visitors and hopefully inject some economic life into the community.