Day of the Dead in Mexico is a deeply rooted tradition that spans generations. The holiday is a heartfelt tribute and re-encounter with the deceased; a celebration of their being and the lives they lived. Apart from the traditional Day of the Dead celebrations in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, nowhere else in Mexico will you find such a beautiful and elaborate tribute to this identity-weaving holiday than at Xcaret Park in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Held from October 30th through November 2nd, Xcaret’sFestival of Life & Death 2015 is an otherworldly experience you won’t want to miss.
In us our dead so that nobody gets left behind
Day of the Dead: A Pre-Colombian Tradition
The ritual of celebrating the deceased dates back thousands of years in Mexico. Many indigenous cultures, particularly those of southern Mexico, had some form of ritual to celebrate the departed. For their part, the Aztecs celebrated the dead with a month-long ritual dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, queen of Mictlan, a.k.a. the underworld.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Over time, as the identity of Mexico became irrevocably altered through the Spanish invasion and subsequent fusion of cultures, Mictecacihuatl became the now famous La Calaca Catrina and the modern Day of the Dead celebration took form through the mixing of pre-Colombian and Spanish traditions. Today, the holiday starts on November 1st to remember the children who have left this world as we know it and ends on November 2nd, when the adults return to partake in a tribute in their name. Not coincidentally, these dates coincide with the Christian celebrations of All Saints’ Day and Alls Souls’ Day, respectively.
An Altar to the Departed
Photo Credit: Festival of Life & Death
Altars are an important part of the Day of the Dead ceremony in Mexico and have deep meaning for those who lovingly create these tributes to their deceased loved ones. An ofrenda or offering to the departed, Day of the Dead alters usually include candles, incense such as copal, flowers, paper decorations and, of course, no alter would be complete without the favorite food and drinks of the deceased. At the center of the alter is the image of a deceased loved one.
Food for the Deceased & Bread for the Departed
In addition to including healthy portions of things such as tamales, horchata, chile relleno and, of course, tequila—a cigarette or two for the smokers—one essential aspect of the Day of the Dead ritual involves a special bread called Pan de muertos or Bread of the Dead. Like Day of the Dead itself, the tradition of pan de muertos goes back to the pre-Colombian cultures who made sacrificial offerings to the gods. With the fusion of Spanish and indigenous cultures, hearts became bread. And if you take a closer look at that bread, you might even notice that the round part could be a skull and the four crossed raised lines the hand and feet of the deceased, with the round shape representing the circle of life and death.
Of Skeletons & Skulls
Another aspect of Day of the Dead that is so essential to the identity of the celebration itself are the numerous skeletons and elaborately decorated sugar skulls that can be seen at almost every market and store in Mexico. The skulls, known as calaveras, are an important symbol of Day of the Dead, and much like pan de muertos, are derived from a pre-Colombian tradition fusioned with the practice and beliefs of the Spanish invaders. To be precise, the Spanish process of forming sugar cane into edible shapes combined with the indigenous beliefs and skilled skull art to create a modern tradition.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Likewise, the calacas or skeletons. Dating back centuries to the practice of Aztec imagery, the use of skeletons as a living representation of death and afterlife is a fundamental aspect of Day of the Dead. But rather than the commemorate the sad and the tragic side of death, the skeletons are generally joyous figures portrayed in festive colors as they dance, sing, strut or play musical instruments.
Of the all the calacas in Mexico, known are more famous than Catrina. The concept of Catrina was born of the famous Mexican illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada, who developed the image of an aristocratic skeleton in a European-style outfit to mock those who self-identified more with Europe. Today, Catrina is an icon of not only Day of the Dead but Mexico’s national identity.
Day of the Dead at Xcaret Park
While Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico, few places offer such a unique and privileged view of the customs and traditions that make up this very Mexican holiday as Xcaret Park. Each year, Xcaret organizes its Festival of Life and Death, a captivating tribute to Day of the Dead through music, dance, face painting, history, food and theater held in Mexico’s Riviera Maya from October 30th through November 2nd.
Photo credit: Xcaret Park
The entire concept of the festival has been developed for all age groups. Like in previous festivals, this year’s 2015 Day of the Dead tribute will feature a number of options such as face-painting, theater and music for young and old alike. And for those looking for authentic expressions of Mexican cuisine, a number of local communities will have stands at the three-day event where they will have the opportunity to earn extra income through the sales of delicious Day of the Dead culinary specialties.
Photo credit: Xcaret Park
In fact, the Festival of Life and Death has proved so successful that in 2015 it is now celebrating its 10th anniversary of bringing the intricacies and beauty of Mexican culture to a wider audience. To commemorate this important event, Xcaret has invited the celebrated Mexican folk singer Julieta Venegas to headline what promises to be the most spectacular Festival of Life and Death to date. In addition, Colombia will be the invited country of honor. You can have a look at the Festival of Life & Death program here.
Photo credit: Festival of Life & Death
As your local experts for the best tours and transfers in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Amstar dmc is online and in destination to ensure you have inspiring travel experiences. One that you shouldn’t miss is Xcaret’s Festival of Life and Death.