November 2: Day of the Dead
The commemoration of the Day of the Dead has very ancient roots, from Rome to pre-Hispanic culture in the New World. An allegory loaded with customs, in an attempt to keep the memory of the deceased from the most solemn to the most colorful way.
When is the day of the dead celebrated?
Its celebration in the Gregorian calendar corresponds to November 2, just one day after the celebration of All Saints. It is interesting to note that from its birth to the present, this celebration has given rise to many others, basically associated with different attitudes and philosophies about death that involve rituals and symbols related to various religious practices, but which converge in a celebration that maintains that date in common.
Why is the day of the dead celebrated?
The celebration of this festival has its origin in various religious cultures. Regardless of its nature, it is about not forgetting to walk through the life of those who have already passed away but are still present in our memories.
In multiple beliefs, as in the Mexican for example, it is believed that during the Day of the Dead the souls of loved ones who have passed away can visit the land of the living. That is why in their celebrations an altar is prepared with various elements that are offered as attentions to their spiritualities.
When did the celebration of the Day of the Dead begin?
The Day of the Dead festival dates back to the time of Christian Rome. It is estimated that it was in the XNUMXth century, when the abbot of Cluny, named Odilón, ordered that an allegory of the deceased faithful be commemorated every year in the monasteries belonging to his competence, and that its celebration would take place one day after the feast of all saints, which, after all, is nothing more than a celebration in memory of another type of deceased.
However, it was a century later, when the church invented Purgatory that the feast of the Day of the Dead gained greater popularity, since, from there on, alms, fasts and masses by the living became popular, seeking to decrease the pain of the "unholy" souls who would find themselves in pain for eternity in the newly created enclosure. It is then that the celebration becomes part of the calendar of "the universal Church."
The day of the dead in the Catholic religion
Within the biblical accounts we can find passages that refer to the care of the deceased. For example, in the second book of Maccabees 12:46, it is stated that: "John Maccabee commanded to offer sacrifices for the dead, so that they would be freed from their sins."
In fact, during the first rituals of Christianity it was customary to write the names of deceased people on folding tables called "diptychs", which in the early Church were used to remember the data of the souls for which they had to pray. Later in the XNUMXth century, the Benedictines used to pray for the dead the day after Pentecost.
These references act as a starting point for understanding that nature of the human being that inclines him under any belief to want to remember and honor the memory and spirit of his ancestors.
The syncretism of the catholic celebration of the day of the dead and traditional practices in america
With the presence of the Spaniards in the New World from the XNUMXth century onwards, their typical celebrations arrived to commemorate the memory of the deceased. The imposition of new customs gave rise to a syncretism resulting from the mixture of European and pre-Hispanic traditions, taking as reference for their practices the Catholic festivities of All Saints' Day and of the faithful departed.
This cultural function resulted in funerary practices such as the use of cemeteries and the carrying out of burials or cremations, from the viceregal period until the first half of the XNUMXth century, which reflected the various influences at the religious level. It is then, that indigenous, culinary, artisan, and spiritual practices merge with the use of altars and other elements of Catholic culture, with the occasional variant of the region where the belief was established.
The celebration of the day of the dead in different countries
A deep belief and veneration of the deceased is maintained, in fact, in some places such as the Canary Islands for example, the festival is identified as the "Day of Finaos or Finados". Its celebration is accompanied by family gatherings in which stories are told about the deceased and typical dishes are shared such as: chestnuts, walnuts, apples, sweets, anise and honey rum.
The «Halloween»Where allegorical decorations are made on the graves of their deceased.
In Latin America The commemoration of the Day of the Dead is usually very popular. The customs can vary from one region to another, but as we have mentioned previously, all their practices show the Catholic and indigenous influence.
It is customary to take a serenade to cemeteries at sunrise during the Day of the Dead, then the graves are adorned with flowers. Finally, the participants share in their homes a traditional dish known as: «fiambre» which is a mixture of vegetables with sausages.
The tombs of the cemeteries are decorated with floral arrangements, wreaths, and crosses, significantly increasing the influx of visitors to the cemetery that day.
Usually there are marches or pilgrimages to the cemetery, the graves are also decorated with flowers, and the authorities even deposit floral offerings on the graves of characters of relevance to the history of the country.
The cemetery is usually visited by placing floral attentions to the deceased. In the State of Aragua, a festival of indigenous origin known as "Baile de llora" is held in honor of the deceased.
Indigenous customs prevail in many areas in which guaguas de pan are prepared and exchanged among family and friends to eat in the company of their traditional purple laundry. In addition, the respective offerings are made in the cemeteries.
It is customary to offer breads in the shapes of skulls, animals, ladders, crosses, among others, accompanied with sweet pastries and everything that the deceased liked. Altars are usually prepared, where in addition, flowers and candles are placed to honor their deceased who are believed to visit them at night.
Festive practices very similar to those carried out in Ecuador and Bolivia are carried out.
Celebration of the day of the dead in mexico
The celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico is one of the most allegorical and representative worldwide. Proof of this is the fact that it was declared in 2008 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Mexico by Unesco.
Its remarkable Mesoamerican influence makes it very rich in elements. At first, it is necessary to remember that for native cultures death did not have the moral connotations of the Christian religion, in which the ideas of hell and paradise serve to punish or reward. On the contrary, they considered that the path corresponding to the souls of the deceased was determined by the type of death they had suffered, and not by their behavior in life.
The main civilizations of the Mesoamerican area such as: the Aztecs and the Mayans, had marked customs for the worship of ancestors and death itself. Before the Catholic religion came to Mesoamerica, many of the pre-Hispanic cultures had the belief of an afterlife. Their allegorical rituals, including the use of altars and offerings, constitute antecedents of current rituals.
How are the deceased cared for on the Day of the Dead?
Offerings vary depending on where they are made, but the most popular attentions are:
- Typical dishes and meals: The foods preferred by the deceased or typical regional dishes are usually offered such as: sugar skulls that are sweet in the shape of a skull; or the bread of the dead, which is a type of sweet bread with different shapes alluding to the holiday.
- Flowers: it is a fundamental element in the care of the deceased that remains present in most of the cultures that carry out this allegorical celebration. The energetic essence of flowers is believed to attract, guide and comfort the souls of the dead.
- Visit to the cemeteries: it is believed that the souls of the deceased return briefly during their day, therefore, they go to their visit to somehow return to contact with them and offer them care that shows that they are remembered and his memory is honored.
- Preparation of altars: in cases where the tombs cannot be visited, altars can also be made in the homes where the offerings are placed, to which the deceased can also have access during their festivity.
- Use of portraits of remembered people: the portrait of the deceased allows us to keep it present in some way during the holiday, it is usually placed on altars.
- Images of the Souls of Purgatory: this image serves to implore for the soul of our deceased, in order to achieve their exit from purgatory, if it is still there.
- Candles and tapers: their use is due to the fact that they are attributed the virtue of illuminating and spiritually reinforcing the path that souls must follow.
- Cross: this is a typical symbol of modern altars and is a representation of the influence introduced by the Spanish evangelizers.
- Incense or incense: this is an element whose use is as pre-Hispanic as it is Catholic, it is believed that it has properties that clean and purify the energies of a place, sanctifying the environment.
- Water: it is a basic element for the adoration of the deceased. It reflects the purity of the soul, the unstoppable regeneration of life both on the physical and spiritual plane.
- Alcoholic beverages: it is customary to offer drinks that were liked by the deceased.
Prayer to the faithful departed
Both on the day of the dead and in our day to day, it is worth making various prayers imploring for the rest and evolution of the soul of our deceased. There are many ways to make such a plea, however, it is clear that the most effective will be those that are done from the heart. Even so, we can support ourselves by praying for the souls of those who are no longer on this plane as follows:
«With the blessing of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray to you Lord, you who are peace, salvation and resurrection.
Blessed are you today and always Lord, who keeps us full of hope in you, in your love and your goodness comforts us.
Today, Holy Father, we are gathered to remember our relatives and friends who have passed away.
Today, our Father, we implore your goodness and mercy so that his sins are forgiven and his soul is enlightened with your mercy.
We trust that his Calvary will not be eternal, just as we trust your love Our Father.
We pray that this celebration will keep us united in our faith, both those of us on this earth and those who were called to your presence.
My God, we gather here supplicating once more imploring the consolation of those who have been left on this earth without the presence of those we once loved in life.
We ask you with great humility that everything we offer on this day serves as a sacrifice so that our deceased can achieve the bliss of eternal peace.
So that they may find and walk the path of the goodness of the spirit and the truth of your teachings and thus they can promptly enjoy eternal rest, without departing for a moment from your wise teachings, your infinite love and deep faith.
Amen and so be it.