Death doesn’t always have to be so grim. Indeed, many cultures around the world have beautiful perspectives and traditions related to the theme. Indigenous Greenlanders believe that the stunning Northern Lights are the spirits of dead children dancing. Similarly, during the Odon Festival in August, Japanese Buddhists believe that their loved ones can visit the living for a day. Then later, at night, the spirits are guided back to the realm of the dead by thousands of beautiful floating paper lanterns on rivers and bays.
Mexico has one of the most carnivalesque and beautiful festivals dedicated to the dead – El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Rather than celebrating death, this two-day festivity is a celebration of the lives of those who have passed away. Characterized by its bright yellow marigold flowers, magenta and orange flags and tablecloths, its colorfully decorated sugar skulls, and its beautiful candlelight, it is hard to find a more colorful festival around the world.
The Day of the Dead takes place from October 31st and November 2nd. Where will you celebrate the festivity?
All around, in homes, offices, and city squares, you’ll find beautiful and colorful altars featuring flowers, food offerings, incense, religious icons, photos, mezcal, toys, and cheerful sugar skulls. Often, the altar’s feature the deceased’s favorite foods, drinks, and hobbies. The festival combines indigenous Aztec rituals with Catholicism, affirming Mexico’s rich cultural fusion and complex history.
At midnight on October 31st , it is believed that the gates of heaven open to allow the spirits of deceased children, called angelitos or little angels, to visit and reunite with their loved ones for a day. November 2nd is the day when the spirits of adults come to visit to enjoy the festivities and offerings. Families decorate the gravestones and come together to tell fun stories of the dead, and to partake in the favorite pastimes of those who have passed away. Some families even take televisions to see the soccer match with their loved ones. Unlike Halloween, there is nothing morbid or scary about this holiday.
You are probably familiar with the symbol of the Catrina, given its recent popularity as a Halloween costume around the world. What you may not know, however, is that She is Death. The Aztecs considered death to be a female figure. The symbol of the Catrina, however, came much later and was in fact, created by a political cartoon artist more than 100 years ago. The Catrina was drawn in a large, lavish feathered hat and a French aristocratic dress, which served as a critique of the decadent Mexican aristocracy of the era. The Catrina shows that, in death, we are all equal and that she too, comes for the rich. Death does not discriminate. Today, many cities around the country have Catrina parades.
WHERE TO EXPERIENCE THE DAY OF THE DEAD IN 2017:
San Miguel de Allende & Guanajuato Trip (3-7 Days)
Enjoy weeklong Day of the Dead festivities and public spectacles in San Miguel de Allende, an enchanting colonial town. People painted as skeletons and traditional Catrinas flood the streets to enjoy the various spectacles, which include dancing, singing, plays, and a large Catrina parade where everyone can participate. Top off your trip with an additional visit to the nearby and magical town of Guanajuato – a colorful and picturesque town known for its art and theater festivals.
Oaxaca & Pacific Coast Trip (3 - 8 Days)
Explore one of Mexico's most captivating and culturally diverse regions. Let yourself be surprised by unique cuisine, quaint villages, beautiful music, colonial architecture, artisanal craftsmanship, and elaborate celebrations. Apart from Oaxaca's impressive cultural heritage, you can also explore the area's beautiful mountainous natural settings. Immerse yourself in the beautiful and elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations, and experience a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the heart of Mexico's cultural legacy.
Top off your trip with a relaxing beach-stay on Mexico’s magnificent Pacific Coast.
Mérida & Tulum Trip (4 - 8 Days)
Celebrations of the Day of the Dead in the Yucatan peninsula are decidedly different from the rest of the country, given the large Mayan influence in the region. Here the holiday even has a different name – Hanal Pixan, a Mayan saying that means “food of the souls”. Festivities include a parade around the beautiful city of Merida, ending in the local graveyard. The holiday revolves even more around food, and traditional Prehispanic Mayan foods are a centerpiece of the celebrations. Top off your cultural and foodie travels with an enchanting stay at a nearby bohemian tropical beach town.
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