El Día de los Muertos
Una celebración de los muertos
Watch the videos below to learn a little bit about la historia and las tradiciones for el Día de los Muertos in México. As you're watching the video, listen for the answers to these questions and write them down in your Google Doc.
- What is the purpose of el Día de los Muertos?
- When does it happen?
- What are some popular ways that people celebrate it? Describe at least THREE.
La historia y los símbolos
Some of the most famous symbols of this holiday are las calaveras (skulls) and los esqueletos (skeletons). Read the article below to learn a little bit about the history of the skulls and skeletons as symbols and more specifically, about the history of Catarina. Then, answer the questions below in your Google Doc.
- Who is José Guadalupe Posada and what was his impact on el Día de los Muertos?
- What is the significance of skulls and skeletons for el Día de los Muertos?
- Who is Catarina and why is she significant?
José Guadalupe Posada, a famous Mexican artist, lived during one of the most chaotic times in Mexico during this country’s revolutionary war years from 1910 to 1920. He knew how to capture the essence of this turbulence in his art to the point that his work became the representation of Revolutionary Mexico.
Posada became known as an artist that depicted the violence of this time in a sarcastic, mocking tone by drawing cartoonish pictures of skeletons performing everyday tasks or even fighting in the War. These characters were usually depicted in clothing that was custom of that time in Mexico.Posada simply gave death a face, with a sarcastic, ironic touch. It was through his art that the most famous depictions of the holiday came to life through La Catrina* y las calacas*.
He made one of the most historical myths of the Mexican culture famous: death. From the ancient cultures that were established in the valley area of the country to the mexican civilization, every group of people in Mexico’s native past has taken a very special interest in death. Unlike many cultures around the world that compare death with sadness or pain, these cultures viewed it as a mystical influence – magical in the way that it became a friend, a faithful confidant, and a mysterious conqueror of life on earth.
*Catrina : The famous skeleton figure first created by José Posada, and who is elaborately dressed. She is almost always a figure represented during El día de los muertos en México. A Spanish word that means well dressed, rich.
*Calaca: in México, Honduras this means skeleton; another representation of death during El Día de los Muertos
As part of the celebration, families create ofrendas, or altars with offerings to people who have died. These ofrendas can be inside homes, in churches, or at the cemeteries where the loved ones are buried. Look through the photos below and then answer the next questions in the Google Doc.
- What are ofrendas and where do people make them?
- What do kind of things do people usually leave at ofrendas? Give 4-6 examples.
Las ofrendas, or altars, are built during Dia de los Muertos to honor the lives of those who have passed. They are often quite beautiful creations, constructed with love and care. Creating these altars is one of the most important traditions during Day of the Dead in Mexico and in Mexican-American communities around the globe.
On top of the altar, offerings are laid out for the dead known as ofrendas in Spanish. These are items that the spirits will enjoy when they come back to earth to visit their living families and friends. People make an effort to lay out the best ofrenda they can afford, consisting of things the dead person enjoyed while s/he was alive.
It is common for families to spend a lot of money for the Day of the Dead, to buy new things to go on their altars. This is because they want the best for their deceased loved ones. They don't want their loved ones to show up after a long, tedious journey from the Other Side to be greeted by a meager, half-hearted altar!
Whether simple or sophisticated, Day of the Dead altars and ofrenda all contain certain basic elements in common. Here are the ofrendas that you will typically see on a Dia de los Muertos altar:
- Candles (Las velas)- Candles are lit to welcome the spirits back to their altars.
- Marigolds (cempasúchitl) - These yellow-orange flowers, also called cempasúchitl, symbolize death. Their strong fragrance also help lead the dead back to their altars. Marigold petals may also be sprinkled on the floor in front of the altar, or even sprinkled along a path from the altar to the front door, so that the spirit may find her way inside.
- Incense (El incienso)- Most commonly, copal incense, which is the dried aromatic resin from a tree native to Mexico. The scent is also said to guide the spirits back to their altars
- Salt (La sal)- represents the continuance of life.
- Photo of the deceased- A framed photo of the dead person to whom the altar is dedicated, usually positioned in a prime spot on the altar.
- Pan de muerto- Also known as "bread of the dead",pan de muerto is a symbol of the departed.
- Sugar skulls (Las calaveras de azúcar)- As symbols of death and the afterlife, sugar skulls are not only given as gifts to the living during Day of the Dead, they are also placed as offerings on the altar.
- Fresh fruit (La fruta)- whatever is in season oranges, bananas, etc.
- Other foods- Traditional Day of the Dead foods that you would find on altars include atole, mole, tamales, and tortillas. Altars also usually include the dead person's favorite foods, including modern foods like Rice Krispies or potato chips! A note about foods and drinks on altars
- Water- Souls are thirsty after their long journey from the Other Side, so they appreciate a glass of water upon arrival.
The souls that visit their altars do not actually eat or drink what is on the altar. They can't - they have no bodies! Instead, they absorb the aroma and energy of the food, which nourishes their spirits. After the holiday is over, the foods and drinks on the altars are distributed amongst family and friends, but the foods and drinks are now tasteless and devoid of nutritional value, because their essence is gone.
- Toiletries- Likewise, the spirit will want to freshen up after they reach the altar, so a hairbrush, a mirror and some soap are always appreciated, along with a small towel.
- Other drinks- The favorite drink of the deceased is also laid out on the altar, whether it is tequila, whisky, soda, or anything else!
- Items that once belonged to the deceased- Mementos and other things the dead person enjoyed in life are laid out on the altar, and often new things are bought too.
- Images of saints- or other role models who were important in the dead person's life.
- Papel picado- These decorative pieces of cut paper are draped around the altar's edge or hung from above.
- Ceramics and woven baskets- were traditionally included in Day of the Dead altars.
Although Day of the Dead altars typically contain these same basic elements, altars can be highly individualized and creative. For instance, some altars may be draped with a string of Christmas lights while others may be constructed out of stacked, hollowed-out cereal boxes. Why not? Each altar is as unique as the person it was built to honor. The very nature of the holiday encourages this sense of creativity when it comes to honoring the dead.
There are many popular comidas and bebidas that are a part of the DDLM celebration.
Choose ONE of the foods or drinks and research the ingredients and how it's made. Write a 2-3 sentence summary of what you found in your Google Doc.
Día de los Muertos vs. Halloween
Many people mistakenly (and inappropriately) think of el Día de los Muertos as a "Mexican Halloween." While this is far from true, the two traditions have started to blend in some ways in Mexico. Watch the video below to learn more about how these two holidays are beginning to intertwine in parts of Mexico. Then, answer the following questions in your Google Doc.
- Give 2-3 examples of how Halloween and el DDLM are different.
- How are the two traditions starting to blend in Mexico?
Una Representación Moderna
The video below was created by a group of film students for the CGI Student Academy Film Festival. This modern representation of el Día de los Muertos shows some of the deeper meanings it has for those who celebrate it. Watch the video below, then answer the questions in your Google Doc.
- What was the feeling the little girl had for her mother at the beginning of the video?
- During the video, what did you notice about the images of skeletons and the scenes around them and the girl?
- Why do you think many Mexicans and Latin Americans feel that seeing death this way is important? What did this view of death do for the little girl in the video?
- How do you think the girl feels as she walks away at the end of the video?