Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and Central America any time from October 31 thru November 2, and has been throughout Mexico and Central America before . It seems to be celebrated in other parts of the world too, though in different ways, and I am not certain of the timing. In some cases, the skeletons of ancestors are taken out of their resting places, wiped clean and prayed over, sung to and libations and food are consumed in the name of the beloved ones long since gone. In Mexico, the people themselves often put on the masks of the dead, sugar skulls are made and consumed, and it is a time of praying, dancing, singing, eating and generally remembering the dead with elaborate shrines set up for the occasion and filled with all kinds of offerings.
It was originally celebrated in the 9th month of the Aztec calendar (early in August) and lasted the entire month approximately 5,000 years ago, some time before the Spaniards showed up. In the Aztec belief system, there were several planes of existence which were separate but interrelated to the one on which they dwelled. They envisioned a world consisting of 13 overworlds or layers of heavens above the earthly terrain and nine underworlds. Each of these levels had its own characteristics and particular gods who ruled it. When someone died, they believed that the place their soul would go to was determined by the manner in which they died. Warriors who died in battle, women who died during childbirth, and victims of sacrifice were considered to be the most fortunate, as they would be rewarded by achieving the highest plane in the afterlife. Archaeologists have found evidence of elaborate burials beneath homes, suggesting that the Aztecs wanted their deceased ones to be close to them.
Later the festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead”, corresponding to the modern La Calavera Catrina. The Day of the Dead has evolved over the centuries and continues to evolve from year to year, with the Catholic Church now behind most of the celebrations.
November 1 is El Dia de las Angelitas Pequeñas (the Day of Little Angels) and November 2 is El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and corresponds with All Saints Day or El Dia de Los Fieles Difuntos (All Souls Day). The holiday actually begins on October 31, and ends November 2.
Probably the most important part of the celebration is to set up the often elaborate altars with offerings representing Nature (earth), Water, Wind, Fire (the Candles), and Flowers (generally orange to represent the sun). Fruits or other treats and memorable offerings are also placed on the altar for the dead. In some cities, children go from home to home in costumes asking for treats for the dead, and the people give them things from their altars.
Whatever the reason you celebrate the Day of the Dead, I hope you will enjoy the days of what we refer to as Halloween or Samhain. Blessings be upon you as the nights grow cold and long.
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