The origin of the Diá do los Muertos is thought to be rooted in Aztec times and is connected to Mictecacihuatl, the Goddess of the Underworld. Courtesy of the connection with this ancient Aztec cult, the Day of the Dead is celebrated with bizarre and colourful displays.
There is no doubt that Mexico in November is the place to go if you truly want to experience this celebration in all its glory. One of the most widespread features of the Day of the Dead is definitely the abundance of Mexican marigolds. There will be no avoiding the magnificent display of this brilliant orange yellow flower if you arrange to go to Mexico for your holidays at the start of November!
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Day of the Dead Offerings
During the festival of the dead, bunches of these cempasúchil adorn cemeteries and headstones, altars in churches and personal family altars, shop windows, public buildings, streets – basically everywhere a flower can be draped, a flower can be seen.
Flor de Muertos, Mexico offering This flor de muertos (flower of the dead) grows wild throughout Mexico and the connection to the Day of the Dead is, once again, a tradition connected to Mictecacihuatl. It was believed that though the Goddess lived in the Underworld she loved flowers. In particular she loved the bright, sunny beauty of the cempasúchil.
But this flower is not considered just an ornament or a tribute to Mictecacihuatl, it is also seen as a powerful attractor for the dead themselves. It is said that the dead so love the fragrance of the marigold it can tempt them back to this world for a short visit.
Día do los Muertos is an attempt to both honour loved ones who have died and also make death a less frightening prospect in life. To achieve this, the celebrations are a riot of unusual – and often macabre – symbols. Pan de muerto – a sweetbread decorated with dough shaped like bones – along with sweets, treats, skeletons and skulls are laid on altars in remembrance of the dead.
But perhaps the most macabre-seeming symbol associated with the Diá do los Muertos is the famous Catrina. This is an effigy of an elegant, middle class woman, beautifully dressed and complete with a garland of flowers on her head – the only problem is that Catrina is a skeleton inside her elegant garments.
In modern psychology it is well known that a healthy attitude to death lends itself to a healthy attitude to life. Perhaps the Aztecs and the originators of the Diá do los Muertos were ahead of their time in learning to celebrate life by celebrating death?