The environment for Day of the Dead

 Words and photos by Sylvia M. Calderón

According to tradition, the veil between the world of the living and the death becomes very thin in the time from the 3lst of October, the lst and 2nd of November.  Most of us know about Halloween, but few know about the festivity of the Days of the Dead in Mexico, where every year is recovering its ancestral importance.

One of the qualities of this celebration in Mexico is the deep certainty off the inseparability of life and death, and therefore the link between those alive and the dead. With great joy and dedication they do every year an offering in their own house and the cemetery for sharing that moment with the souls of the deceased.


I am fortunate to live in a small town, Tetela del Monte. Most of my neighbors work as gardeners and in greenhouses. Since a couple of days before the festivity, there is great activity in the cemetery. Women, men, young and old, and many children are all around, working on the graves: cleaning them and creating ephemeral works of art with petals of flowers and earth.  People arrive with food, drinks, music, candles, copal and very high spirit to be near their dead. Sitting on the tombs, everybody works, eats, and celebrates.

At home, the family works in their altar where they display the “Ofrenda”(offering).

Photos of deceased family members, surrounded by brilliant orange cempazuchil (marigolds) and other purple flowers.  They offer also the aroma of the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased, the traditional “death´s bread made in various shapes and -of course- copal burning (incense) and abundant candles. 






“La Catrina” with her unforgettable face appears in many forms: colorful illustrations, freshly baked bread special for this occasion, skulls made of sugar, chocolate or seeds with the names of the members. 


All this comes to life on the evening of the 1st of November, to welcome the visit of the dead loved ones. One has to be present to experience the magic feeling of the nearness of those beloved ones that we think are gone.  At the end of the celebration, the ofrenda is eaten and shared with neighbors.

Humor is always present, especially in the mocking epitaphs called “calaveritas” (little skulls). These short poems describe funny anecdotes or habits of living friends, politicians or people in public positions.

Among my neighbors it is usual to ask each other, after saying

-“Good morning and how are you today? Well, the answer is always:
-“Very fortunate because God gave me another day to live, tomorrow belongs to Him”

Yes, it is famous the humorous way Mexicans celebrates death. It goes along with the appreciation most of them have for the gift that life is.



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