“Day of the Dead” Altar Inspiration 2023.

The Day of the Dead celebration for the Meso -American indigenous people was a time to celebrate the harvest, and remember their ancestors. It was a private family event. Families set up a family altar with those things that were important to their ancestors, such as food, toys, pictures of their love ones, local seasonal flowers..

Day of the Dead Family Altar.

This tradition involves both Pagan  and Christian elements needed to honor the ancestor’s altar. “Cempohualxochitl” flowers [marigold], which aroma guided spirits from “Mictlán” [ the place where the souls rest] to their homes, and Cacaloxóchitl flowers [alhelí], guided the spirits home, Copalli incense [aromatic resin], one Xīcalli, [hollowed gourd] of water, and one of salt, Fruit, a special kind of Tamalli   [masa wrapped in corn husks], and dishes of cooked meals with Nopales, Calabaza [Squash] and Tortillas that their ancestors liked to eat. There were no bonfires, instead there was some kind of Light of the sacred fire. Pan de Muerto and Sugar Skulls, these two are traditions brought to Mexico by Spanish Missionaries and nuns that started in the XVII century Europe.

Confitures created to celebrate the Catholic “All Saints’ Day”

In the XVII  century, after the great plague outbreaks of 1652, Spanish Pope Gregorio II chose the “Pagan” celebrations of Sanham in the winter Equinox as new Catholic celebration of “All Saints Day” on November 1st. and added the All Soul’s Day on Nov. 2nd. [Halloween became the eve of the celebrations from Hallow’s Eve to Halloween.]

In Spain, they started making cookies and candies in the shape of bones of saints. Today, they still have a large repertoire of almond confections they eat only during these two days celebration. In Italy the Roman “Ossi dei Morti” became known as “Ossi dea Santi”. In Palermo, they decorated the church with lams and angels made out of sugar.
In Mexico this tradition of making treats for All Souls’ Day became “Pan de Muerto” (Bread of the Dead) and “Calaveritas” [Sugar Skulls]. The sweet bread is decorated with pieces of dough that resemble “bones” thus the name pan de muerto.

Cemetery Visits.

Panteon Noche de Muertos by Ken Kuster

Visiting cemeteries is a new thing, the Catholic Church banned the burial of people in their residencial backyards, because it was a health hazard, and the church could collect an added “tax” for burial services. Rich people were buried inside the church, and the others in the atrium, the big open space outside the church. So, when people came to place their offerings on the graves of their love ones in the cemetery, it became a community celebration of people sharing with strangers thing like food, drinks, stories; some would bring a guitar to serenade their loved ones. And it became a celebration of the life of their loved ones.

Talking to others about the lives of their ancestors, their struggles, their adventures, their lives, seems to bring them back to life, as if they were part of the conversation, and it becomes a celebration of life!

In 2003, The UNESCO proclaimed “The Indigenous Festivity of Mexico dedicated to the dead as part of the  Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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