day-1What is the Mexican celebration Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead?

The rich spiritual heritage of Mexico, dating from ancient times before European contact when the Aztecs ruled, is still evident today in the national holiday celebration Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead. Indigenous tradition has evolved through time and blended with Catholic customs into modern Mexico’s vibrant cultural tapestry.

Every year from October 31 for a few days, Mexico – and proud Mexican communities in other countries – blossom with a zest of vibrant colour, music and cheer as people celebrate the lives of those they love and admire who are no longer living.

The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends who pray for and remember the souls of loved ones who they wish to support on their spiritual journey in the afterlife. People share anecdotes and stories with each other about the person they remember.

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See an exhibition of Mexican altar quilts at the Australasian Quilt Convention, on April 11 to 14, 2019 in Melbourne.

To make sure that the souls of loved ones are well looked after, many create elaborate tribute altars in their homes which welcome the spirits back to the day-to-day world for a brief visit. These altars, called ofrendas, (Spanish: ‘offering’) are decorated with bright lively flowers, like marigolds, and their loved one’s favourite foods and drinks (even cigars,
chocolates and lollies – the little things that were dear to the departed).

The Aztecs believed one should not grieve the loss of a beloved ancestor who passed. Instead, they celebrated their lives and welcomed the return of their spirits to the land of the living once a year. That is where the food, drink and music offerings come in… mourning was not allowed because it was believed the tears would make the spirit’s path treacherous and slippery.

Photos and mementos are set out along with special food offerings like pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”), sugar skulls and drinks. (Traditionally pan de muerto is a sweet, yeast-risen egg bread topped by crossed links of dough representing crossbones. There are many variations, however.) Pumpkin seeds or amaranth seeds are offered as snacks for the visiting ancestral spirit. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, and to remind celebrants that death is a natural part of the cycle of life.

Join a class with Latin American tutor Jane Tenorio-Coscarelli and learn about Mexican motifs, symbols and making altar quilts. Read more…

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