The Day of the dead


Mexican scholar, political activist, and thinker Sergio Ricardo Melesio-Nolasco discusses the historical and cultural aspects of one of the most extraordinary Mexican festivals: Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”).


Day of the Dead is a week-long holiday during which the souls of the dead return to be with their families for one night. That night is November 1st and the early morning of November 2nd. Like so many other elements of Mexico's culture, this holiday is a mixture of Pre-Hispanic and Christian religious ideas.

Mexican culture is very old. It was established about 10,000 years ago. The Ancient Mexicans had a very special attitude towards death. They believed that death is not the end, but just a part in the cycle of life and death. Death is only a temporal condition of the spirit. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by this civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500–3,000 years. At the time of the Conquest, the Spanish couldn't fight against this strong tradition, so they had to find a way to implement it into Catholic Christianity. 

In Mexico, this tradition is taken as part of cultural identity. The celebration is not sad. People are happy to think that death is a part of the cycle and that a person they loved will return to life someday.

On November 2nd, people have to pay homage to their dead family members. To do so, we make special altars, ofrendas. Altars are set up in people's homes and everyone tries to compete with neighbors in decorating. We usually decorate ofrendas with a special flower - the cempasuchil. Families gather in their local graveyard all night to visit with the souls. Newly cleaned graves are decorated with candles, the cempasuchil flower, sugar skulls, and some special dishes for the dead.

People from all parts of the world have developed interest in this extraordinary tradition. The influence of Mexican culture is so strong that the Day of the Dead is already celebrated in some parts of the United States and Latin America.