November 1, 2011 – We are back in San Diego visiting Carol & Hugh from the Discover Baja Travel Club and went to see the 11th Annual Dia De Los Muertos celebrations at the Mission San Luis Rey, Oceanside. The ”Day of the Dead” (El Día de los Muertos or All Souls’ Day) is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and by Latin Americans living in the United States and Canada. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.
The celebration occurs on November 1st and 2nd in connection with the Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day which occurs on November 1st and All Souls’ Day which occurs on November 2nd. Traditions include building private altars honouring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favourite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 mainly as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) and November 2 as “Día de los Muertos” or “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Dead).
The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the “Lady of the Dead”.
Day of the Dead is celebrated in different ways in different places. Festivities tend to be more colorful in the south of Mexico, particularly in the states of Michoacan, Oaxaca and Chiapas. A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for “skeleton”), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. People go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and build private altars, containing the favourite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.