A sacrilegious pagan ritual that made a mockery of death while uplifting skulls and foods to the dead was the first account from outsiders of the celebration that came to be known as Dia De Los Muertos. The Spaniards documented those accounts when they first came to the new land. But what they had just witnessed was an ancient Aztec celebration dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl (“The Lady of the Dead”). What the Aztecs were doing was not mocking death, but embracing what we will all find after death. For the Aztecs, it was not the end of life, but a transition to the next world.
The celebration marked a time of the year in which you honored and shared fellowship with departed loved ones, and it lasted not days but weeks. Though the Spaniards unsuccessfully tried to eradicate this ritual that had been in existence for more than 3,000 years, they could not let it stand in defiance to their faith, so they simply aligned it with All Souls Day and allowed it to find a place in what is now Mexico, giving it its Spanish name, Dia De Los Muertos.
For those of you unfamiliar with the current celebration, it is the first two days of November and is a Mexican celebration for those who have passed on; an honoring of the dead, if you will. Its rituals consist of offering food, drink and flowers to the dead. The making of sugar skulls with the departed one’s name, cooking grand meals and building altars in a loved one’s home or grave site are some of the more consistent traditions, though depending on where you are in Mexico or the United States, other practices may include dressing like the dead.
You see, those who created this practice were not just celebrating death like the Spaniards thought. They used the skull, which signifies death for most of the world, but those who understand the roots of Dia De Los Muertos know that it signifies rebirth-a thought and idea that the Spaniards and most everyone else holds deep in their faith.
In recent years, many have begun to abuse Dia De Los Muertos by producing tote bags, wallets and anything else that they can stamp or slap its unique style on. This did not go unnoticed by majorclothing designers, and your general advertising/marketing scum suckers have all latched on and begun to suck the life and authenticity out of this celebration of our culture.
Now you can see that we as a people should not allow this treasure of our culture to be tarnished, much like the demise of Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day, through exploitation. Dia De Los Muertos has now been littered with $2 products made in China and pumped out of a cold, lifeless machine that cares not for loved ones and has no admiration for death. The significance of the celebration and everything that makes up Dia De Los Muertos has gone to live with Santa and the fuzzy bunny. No longer will anyone take the time to make carefully decorated sugar skulls for their loved ones, to cook delicious meals over a scorching stove with love and devotion for those who have gone onto the next life as if they were going to step through the door at any minute to share some time and a meal with you.
If we do not guard Dia De Los Muertos, it will become nothing more than a Mexican Halloween with no heart and no soul, only plastic skulls, painted faces and another way for those on the outside to tighten their grips on something that was once ours alone. If you were to ask many of those dressed in wedding dresses and wooden masks what and where this celebration comes from, the best answer that you may get is, “It’s a Mexican holiday celebrating the dead.”
Many have no reverence for the history behind Lucha Libre, and they pull that mask over their face like it is a Mexican novelty item of no more importance than a rubber mask of Nixon on the 31st of October. The fate of our culture is in our hands alone to preserve what we have and retain a pure, unadulterated account of our history before it is thrown into the melting pot, producing yet another plastic trinket for all to discard when it has no more relevance.
The only thing that can still be true to the roots of Dia De Los Muertos, is the artwork that remains timeless. We asked a few artists from around the world to create a collection of masterpieces that represent Dia De Los Muertos through their own eyes. Enjoy!