It’s a little strange to write “happy” and “dead” in the same title. In fact, it feels kind of strange to be writing about death at all. We often shy away from talking about it, at least in the UK – death is bad, scary, sad and not something to take lightly. But that’s not how it’s seen everywhere in the world – I’m talking about Mexico and their two-day long celebration dedicated to their deceased loved ones. The Day of the Dead, or día de los muertos, is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November and has been part of Mexican culture for around 3,000 years. Originating with the Aztecs, the first day is el día de los inocentes, dedicated to those who died as children, whilst the second day celebrates the lives of those who died as adults.
It is believed that during these two days, the gates of heaven are opened and the souls of loved ones return home to celebrate with their families and friends. They are welcomed with offerings of their favourite foods, music and brightly coloured decorations. Sheets of papel picado line the streets and decorate altars displaying flowers, candles, photographs of the dead and figurines of saints. The living often paint their faces in the style of sugar skulls, which are also offered to the dead, along with traditional pan de muerto, a sweet bread decorated with strips of dough resembling bones (the living are allowed to eat the “bread of the dead,” it’s delicious.)
Celebrating a day like el día de los muertos means that for Mexicans, death is not seen as something to be feared. It wouldn’t be right to say that the day is an unfailingly happy occasion – I’ve been told by friends that remembering those who are no longer with us (in person, at least) is hard, naturally it makes us sad, but the Day of the Dead is about celebrating the passing from one life to the next, not the end of life. Believing that the dead come back to visit is a cause for huge celebration.
Take some time today to remember the people (and animals!) you love, past and present, celebrate the time you got to spend with them, and think of death as the beginning of something rather than the end. And if they visit your home today, make sure they are welcomed!