Latino culture, Latino family tradition, Uncategorized

The Icons of Day of the Dead

La Catrina- Jose G. Posada etching, 1910 Mexico
La Catrina- Jose G. Posada etching, 1910 Mexico
November first begins the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) festivities and whose roots can be traced back to indigenous cultures. The Aztecs had a celebration in the ninth month of their calendar with a celebration to their goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Queen or  “Lady of the Dead.”

 

Souls did not die, they rested in Mictlan. Her role is to keep watch over the bones of the dead and she presided over the ancient festivals for the departed. She and her husband, the King of Mictlan, were depicted as skeletons and lived in an underworld of bats, spiders and owls.

The calavera, or skeleton is an icon of the DDLM. It has now evolved to stylized and colorful versions of the skull or skeleton figures. You’ve probably seen hundreds. You can find the history of the sugar skulls here.  Many times you’ll see skull shaped breads, cookies or candy. I had these delicious cookies last year:

IMG_0322
Another icon of  DDLM is La Catarina. She is originally found in a 1910 zinc etching by Jose G. Posada, Mexican printer maker and cartoonist. Later La Catrina was stylized as a female skeleton dressed in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time. Her hat originally is related to French and European styles of the early 20th century. She is meant to portray a satirization of those Mexican natives who the artist, Jose Posada, felt were over embracing European traditions of the aristocracy in the pre-revolutionary era.
La Catarina
DIego Rivera’s  “portrait” of Catarina popularized her in this 1946 mural.
The Kid-Diego Rivera. Wiki Creative Commons Lic.
The Kid-Diego Rivera. Wiki Creative Commons Lic.
The spirits of the deceased are thought to pay a visit to their families during DoD and the families prepare an altar, another icon, for them. The altar is used to hold offerings, or ofrendasfor the departed. Their favorite foods, photos, and mementos are often placed on the altar together with items the deceased enjoyed:  toys, candy, liquor, hobbies, etc. A bar of soap, towel, bowl of water and other grooming items are traditionally left at the altar with the belief that the dead have been on a long journey and would like to refresh themselves. 
Day of the Dead Altar-Mexico, Wiki Images
Day of the Dead Altar-Mexico, Wiki Images
An icon that celebrates the indigenous roots are the Four Elements: wind, water, earth and fire are often represented on the altar. Wind is sometimes signified by papel picado that moves in the breeze. Candles depict fire, food represents earth, and liquids represent water. The cempasuchitl (Mexican Marigold) is an Aztec tradition, and another icon, which says that the twenty-petal flower attracts souls to the altars.
In the last ten years, Day of the Dead celebrations include both traditional and political elements, such as altars to honor the victims of the Iraq War. There are updated, inter-cultural versions of the Day of the Dead such as the event at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, (a very cool website). This year the Smithsonian Institute has a celebration-on 3D! 
Smithsonian Institute
Smithsonian Institute Dia De Los Muertos
The DDLM’s has become more widely known and accepted. Although I didn’t grow up with DDLM’s, I did grow up with small altars in our home, where we did have statues and prayed for the departed throughout the year. This was more in the tradition of Catholicism.

This year, like the last three years, I’m attending a DDLM party at the Ventura County Museum, which features crafts, altars, drinks and dancing. Whichever way you honor your loved ones and those who have departed, may you have a memorable Dia de los Muertos.

Calaveras, Celebrations, Day of the Dead, Dia de Los Muertos, Infographic on Day of the Dead, Latina Lista, Latino culture, Ofrendas, Pan muerto, Papel Picado, Sugar Skulls

10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos

http://www.latinalista.com

Right after the candy and costumes of Halloween, we have the celebration of Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead (DoD). 

This is an ancient tradition which has been reintroduced into the United States in the 1990’s. 

I am the second generation Mexican American. The DoD celebration was not part of my childhood or young adult years. The kids in my barrio went across town, to the North side, to go Trick or Treating. We did not stay home and build altars, make sugar skulls or bake pan de Muerto.

Well, I take that back. Most of the homes in our neighborhood had little altars in the living room or in the front yard, but they housed the Virgen de Guadalupe, or a saint, some small candles, and maybe a memorial card of a loved one.   

As a full out celebration, the DoD was not practiced much in the ’60’s and 70’s the USA. But it has found an additional home with Hispanic and non-Hispanic millennials. I’d venture to say it’s now practiced by many Latino baby boomers and Gen X’s. In fact, I’m attending my sixth DofD celebration, this time at our county museum. 

This infographic by GolinHarris on the Traveling Latina site gives an eye-opening look into the “new” old celebration. 

The sugar skulls, dancing calaveras (skeletons), Papel Picado, marigolds, ofrendas, altars and revelry has caught on in the U.S. Big time. Like Hollywood big time

So for those who have not attended a DoD fest, here’s a guide to have your own celebration:

day of the dead altar
Day of the Dead Nicho-flickr.com

 

                 10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos

  • Altar: This can be on an end table, on the unused dining table, a niche, or atop of a sturdy box. The altar is a remembrance of the dearly departed. 
  • Papel Picado. This is preforated paper, easy to make with tissue and scissors. The element of air is visible when the paper flutters. 
  • Ofrendas/Offerings. What items represent the departed; what did she/he enjoy?
  • Cempasuchitl/Marigolds. Thse flowers symbolized death. Their strong fragrance is said to help the departed ‘smell’ their way back to your altar.
  • Candles. These help light the way for the departed and welcome them back. This is the element of fire.
Calavera Cookies-www.alvaradofrazier.com
Calavera Cookies-www.alvaradofrazier.com
  • Food. This could be a favorite food of the departed (full meals to snacks) plus pan de muerto, a sweet bread in the shape of a skull. I liked these homemade cookies. Fruit represents the earth.
  • Liquid. This element represent water. The liquid could be any favorite beverage of the departed.
  • Photos. Place your favorite photos in prominent places for guests to see.
  • Incense. This may take you back to Catholic school days, but incense is chosen because it is a strong smelling aroma which is needed to guide the spirit back. Some people use sage or copal.
  • Stories. This gives you an opportunity to tell your friends, children, grandchildren stories about the departed and what they meant to you.

Now that you know the meaning of Dia De Los Muertos, go and celebrate your loved ones.