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Monday, November 8, 2010

At the Bradenton Village of the Arts, celebrating the Day of the Dead

For this week's Magical Monday I'd like to tell about my Saturday visit to the Bradenton Village of the Arts during their annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Southern ways are still new to me and this holiday was something I’d heard of, but never really understood. I thought the event would be more like a Mexican/Spanish Halloween celebration. I was very wrong. Instead, it had its own entrancing magical communication with the dead. Nothing scary. A happy event.

Each gallery presented a lovely altar to honor deceased loved ones with their photos and small memorabilia of their lives. The shrines were decorated in bright colors, gold, yellow, orange. Chrysanthemums, marigolds, candles, smiling sugar skulls, skeletons dressed in party clothing added to the gaiety. These altar pictures were taken at the local celebration I attended.

The intent of the holiday is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear prayers and comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed. I saw many loving and humorous mementoes on the local shrines--very heartwarming.

Traditionally, Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated by people of Latin American and Latinos living in the US and Canada. The celebration occurs on November 2 in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). The holiday can be traced back thousands of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. Then it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. In Spain, there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors the deaths of children and infants, Día de los Inocentes ("Day of the Innocents"), whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2.

Typically today, during the three-day celebration, families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with offerings, especially Mexican marigolds. The flower is so important in modern Mexico, the name of the event is sometimes replaced with the term Flor de Muerto ("Flower of the Dead"). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. Celebrants often wear shells on their clothing, so that when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead.

Catrinas, one of the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or "the little angels"), and bottles of tequila or mezcal for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Offerings are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead"), sugar skulls, and beverages. The offerings are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the food. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. I saw some homes throughout the Village of the Arts with these offerings on tables on porches, to invite the spirits of loved ones home.

I was very touched by the celebration. Everywhere were fond remembrances of those who had passed away. There was definitely magic in the air.

Gran calavera eléctrica ("Grand electric skull") by José Guadalupe Posada


MuseItUp Publishing said...

What a fascinating and different tradition. When someone passes in the Greek culture, we burn a candle for three months to guide the spirit into the heavens.

Bobbye Terry said...

Love the tradition and see fodder for a novel here. ;)

Marsha A. Moore said...

It really is a fascinating tradition, filled with love and fond remembrance. It's hard to convey the warm emotions of the event. It was something to behold.

Thanks Lea and Bobbye for stopping by.

Savanna Kougar said...

That is a beautiful way to celebrate loved ones who have passed over.

Marsha A. Moore said...

It really is, I agree. Thanks for reading, Savanna. :)

Ldr411 said...

Cool. Sorry I missed it. Maybe I'll join you next year.

Marsha A. Moore said...

Good idea! It was fun.