No discussion of Mexico can be accomplished without bringing up the acclaimed Day of the Dead. Most Americans are familiar with this holiday in Mexico as it is portrayed in the various cinema horror movies however nothing could be further from the truth.
The early Spanish Conquistadors that landed in Mexico were very amazed at a native practice which appeared to mock the concept of death. This was a practice that had been followed for at least 3000 years.
Although the Spanish attempted to eradicate this ancient custom they had no luck what-so-ever in doing away with it. This ritual is commonly known as the Día de los Muertos, or in English as the Day of the Dead.
This ritual has prompt celebrations all around the country of Mexico and is enjoyed by both the young and the old. Although the catholic theology has attempted to merge the ideas of the Dia de los Muertos with the mainstream religion it still maintains its basic principles of it’s Aztec roots with its use of skulls and associated paraphernalia.
A visit to Mexico during the month of November will reveal people donning various wooden skull masks commonly known as calacas and you can readily see these people dancing in honor of their relatives which have past on. Many homes have altars created within and these wooden skulls will ultimately end up being placed upon them as a dedication to these dead ancestors.
To watch these activities is truly an interesting experience. Sugar skulls inscribed with the names of the various dead relatives upon the forehead are literally eaten by one of the relatives.
The Aztecs kept human skulls as a sort of trophy and would display them during these rituals. These skulls symbolized both death and rebirth combined. The human skulls honored the dead which the Aztecs believed would come back during the month long celebration to visit the deceased family.
Interestingly, unlike the conquering Spanish who generally viewed death as life’s final end the Aztec natives viewed the situation as a continuation of our present life. Therefore, instead of developing a fear of death the natives embraced it to the fullest. Their philosophy was that our present life was merely a dream and only when we experience death did we become truly awake.
Needless to say the Spaniards considered this death ritual as sacrilegious and perceived the Aztecs as pagan and barbaric. During their attempts to convert the natives to their religion they made every effort they could to crush the beliefs in this ritual. However the Aztec belief simply refused to go away and continued to our present day.
Today this celebration is honored on the Christian day known as All Saints' Day or All Souls' Day which is the first of November. If you plan to visit Mexico during these days you owe it to yourself to view these interesting and colorful festivals.
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