Our Love for Death
By Mónica Belén
When Academy Award winner Guillermo del Toro was asked about his extraordinary ability to see the dark side of the human being, fantasy and terror and at the same time be a cheerful and generous man, his answer was the most simple and complex at the same time: "I am Mexican... we Mexicans love life because we are very conscious of death". And so it is, since ancestral times in Mexico we have a subtle approach to death not because of fascination but because of the hope that in an unknown space, those we love who have passed away remain and one night a year, they arrive to the home or place where the living, us, are waiting for them.
From pets that were life companions, to children and adults, Mexicans believe that they have a special permission during the fall to visit us, October 27 is the day of the pets, October 28 is the day of the tragically deceased, October 30 and 31 is the day of the unbaptized deceased children (according to the Catholic tradition), November 1 is All Saints Day, people who led an exemplary life and baptized children and the big party is on November 2 which begins at dawn and is expected to all deceased loved ones are these days during which they accompany the living, us.
To receive them we prepare a table with everything they used to enjoy in life, we call it OFRENDA, we place the photograph of the person we are waiting for, cempasúchil flowers (orange or red sweet smelling flower), we decorate the place with large sheets of colored paper, in a solemn but festive atmosphere, food of all kinds: tamales, mole, fruits and if he or she liked to drink alcohol can not miss the bottle of Tequila or brandy and cigars, skulls (skulls) of sugar or chocolate, always accompanied by a good pan de muerto, this delicacy is a special bread that is only made on these dates with lemon flavor in a round shape crowned with ornaments of bones also bread and sugar, candles to illuminate the night. In the schools the children organize themselves to put their OFRENDA dedicated to a teacher or singer, there are contests of the so called: Calaveritas that are funny rhymes about a person or event that always involve the cheerful and elegant death: La Calaca, La Flaca, La Huesuda, La Catrina. This character was a gift to Mexicans (and the world) from the extraordinary José Guadalupe Posada, the caricaturist and critic of the dictatorship that Mexico lived for 37 years at the hands of Porfirio Díaz at the beginning of the 20th century. La Catrina and El Catrín are two characters dressed in high costume that emerged as a social criticism of the opulence of the upper social classes while the people suffered hunger, but that is another story.
In places like Janitzio and Patzcuaro both in the state of Michoacan, Xochimilco and San Andres Mixquic in Mexico City, Cuetzalan in Puebla, among many others celebrate the Day of the Dead (November 2) with ritual and cultural events, thousands of visitors from all over the world come to the cemeteries of these municipalities to witness the celebrations around the tombs, the ALTAR, the OFRENDA (food, flowers, candles) is placed on or around the tomb, decorated very ostentatiously, mariachis or musical bands are brought and people spend the night there, in a joyful and respectful atmosphere which is prepared up to 3 months in advance. Alumbrada is the name given to the joint lighting of candles by the relatives of the deceased around the tomb. In Mexico City, it is celebrated, among other things with a big parade since 2016 with the props used in the filming of the movie "Spectre" of agent 007. In the University City, home of the Maximum House of Studies of Mexico there is a competition of OFRENDAS, ALTARES, more than 300 of them. All based on the tradition of the Aztec people of the center of the country for whom Mictlantecutli was the owner and lord of the place of the dead, the Mictlan. He was also considered the god of the underworld and ruled such destiny together with his wife Mictlancíhuatl.
In a few words and to avoid misunderstandings in Mexico we speak the universal language: LOVE that serves as a bridge between life and death. It is what we feel for those who are gone that transforms the pain of loss into hope and joy for one day a year where, somehow, something inside us, by culture and tradition encourages us to wait for them, to share music, food, drink and talk with them. I remember when I was a child, when the Day of the Dead passed by, I used to ask my mother to eat the bread and candies of the ofrenda, she told me no, that they were theirs and they had already eaten them, how? I still see them on the table. She laughed, try them, they have already taken her soul. I laughed, one day I took the chocolates and bread of the dead, I have to admit that it is so, yes, really that food had no taste, no smell, no soul... This is how every year we preserve what UNESCO has named Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Tradition of the Day of the Dead.