The Day of the Dead, November 1-2, 2023: “You honor people, you connect with the past.”
“Marigold-strewn altars to deceased loved ones, revelers dressed as skeletons, and colorful parades make Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) a big spectacle in Mexico and U.S. border states. The somber-meets-celebratory holiday November 1 and 2 honors the dead with a fusion of Catholic and pre-Columbian traditions.” (National Geographic)
On the traditional altars honoring the dead, food is a symbol of Mother Earth. Even the sweetest bread, flavored with orange blossom, has grizzly origins. According to researchers at the Mexican School of Gastronomy, the dough was prepared by mixing honey and human blood as an offering to the gods.
The Day of the Dead families place homemade altars to honor the dead and spend the night at the cemetery, lighting candles in the hope of illuminating their paths. “We preserve the culture of our ancestors, and that is why we make our altars,” said one resident of Santa María Atzompa.
According to legend, two smells show souls the way out of the underworld, the spiritual world, so they can commune with their loved ones for the day. One is smell belongs to a type of marigold, seen everywhere on this day, a “flower of 20 petals” also known in the ancient Aztec language Náhuatl as cempasúchil.
“Cempasúchil, or flor de muerto, (flowers of the dead) are bright orange and yellow flowers’ whose fragrance is said to attract souls to the altar. Their bright and cheery color also celebrates life instead of feeling bitter about death. AP
The second scent pervasive on this day is that of Copal, a tree resin which too assists the dead to find the way home. Copal incense is used to purify the area around the altar. It is thought that the smoke from the incense helps people communicate with their deceased family members.
Other historians believe that Spanish colonizers, frightened by human sacrifices in Mexico, created a bread, dipped in sugar and painted it red, to symbolize a heart.
On this date, death itself is not honored but rather the ancestors, said the local secretary of culture, Victor Cata. “It’s a celebration of those with whom we shared a time and a roof, who were flesh and blood like us.”