The Days of the Dead, the first two days of November, are the most important Indian celebration in Mexico. Many Mexicans believe that the souls of the dead people return to their families for a night’s visit, and upon the occasion of this annual reunion of loved ones, the spirits are received and welcomed as honored guests. Many special objects and decorations are made to celebrate this festival. The most elaborate is the ofrenda, or offering, a beautifully decorated altar bearing food, flowers, beer, mescal, incense and candles for the souls. It is an ancient belief that the dead partake of food in spirit on this night, the only time of the year when they can eat. Afterward, the food is enjoyed by the families in a festive moon because they are happy to have shared it with the souls of their loved and honored relatives.
Octavio Paz says, “The word death is not pronounced in New York, Paris, or in London because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps much fear in his attitude as that of theirs, but at least death is not hidden away: he looks at it face to face, with impatience, disdain or irony.” (The Labyrinth of Solitude)
The elements of fear and dread were traditionally said to not be part of the Mexican’s anticipation of the end of life, for he knew that the soul remains alive forever. If a cordial feeling toward his departed relatives and friends provides the Mexican with a kind reassurance about his own death, this cannot be easily shared by people who take a different view of dying.
Recently, our store owner, Marcia Lucas, spent some time in Oaxaca, Mexico very near to the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Below, are some of the photos she took while walking the streets of Oaxaca.