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Monday, November 1, 2010

PEOPLE & VOICES - Day of the Dead


By Karri Moser

The 4000 year old ancient Aztec celebration with a twist of Catholicism is quickly approaching. Day of Dead festivities and celebrations are always held from October 31st until November 2nd. Each community has their own distinct celebrations that have grown and evolved over generations. However, the significance of certain days is universal in meaning. November 1st is the Vigil of the Little Angels, a time to remember children who have died, and November 2nd is the Vigil for Adults.

Day of the Dead is the time families can pay homage to those who have passed. They believe, through a series of rituals and offerings, that this is the one time of year their dead relatives can return to share a meal and have their souls return to be close to them again. It is also a time to celebrate death as a transition and honor all past souls who continue to watch over and protect the living. As an example of the holiday’s catholic roots, it is also a time to help and pray for the souls who are still waiting in purgatory.

To honor and call forth those family members who have passed, a family will create an altar in the home. The altar typically contains remembrances of that person, including photos, favorite books, toys, foods and drinks. Incense and candles are also used. The dead are said to be able to take in or absorb their favorite dishes and drinks; therefore the living wait to imbibe and enjoy meals. Marigolds are used in decorating because their scent is an alluring scent the dead will follow on their journey home. Each altar will also contain items representing earth, wind, fire and water. While they may all have things in common, a family’s altar for their loved one will be as unique as the person they are intended to honor.

Some of the community-wide events include the making and sharing of skull sugar candy and death bread (sweet muerto). Entire groups will descend on town cemeteries and paint and spruce up the headstones. They may also leave blankets and pillows for the dead to use in order to rest after their journey.

Government offices, schools and just about every place in the local communities will take part in the festivities. Day of the Dead continues to live on a lively and honorable way to celebrate all who are missed everyday throughout the year.