Through history, death has been a character present in mexican popular culture. In along task to understand it in its entirety, was born the most colourful and emblematic tradition of Mexico:
DAY OF THE DEAD.
This tradition resulted in the ultimate symbol representing this unique festival: the altar of dead.
This representation is perhaps the most important tradition of mexican culture and one of the most internationally; even it is considered and protected by UNESCO as World Heritage.
To learn more about the Day of the Dead celebration and the meaning it has today the altar, it is necessary to travel through history, to the pre-hispanic and colonial times, to fully understand its meaning.
In Mexico, to honor the dead, many colors, flavors and shapes are used, but in other cultures death has a meaning of sorrow and pain; however for the pre-hispanic people death had a very different connotation.
For them, life after death depended on how they died, so those who died in war or in the ballgame, instantly earned eternal glory, but those who died of natural causes, had to cross a long journey of suffering before obtaining eternal rest.
The origins of this tradition goes back to the time of the Aztecs, who celebrated the "Ueymicailhuitl" or great party dead in august 5th.
In this celebration, people used to place altars with offerings to remember their family, which is the main background of mexican´s current altar of the dead.
But it was not until after the arrival of spanish missionaries in order to preach the religion, they decided to combine the "Ueymicailhuitl" with the day of all saints, resulting in: the Day of the Dead and the famous altar.
Despite the existence of many variables of the altar, the most common is the one that has 3 levels.
The first level represents heaven, which is symbolized by arcs of confetti in orange and purple colors, which refers to life and death. Flowers, incense and a photograph of the deceased are placed. This level represents the future, knowing that someday we will meet again with our loved ones.
The second level represents the land, which is symbolized by salt. Offerings are placed, those foods that the deceased enjoyed in life. This level represents the past, when the deceased still enjoyed life and health.
The third and final level represents the underworld. Placed candles to light the way of the dead to the living world, the “pan de muerto” and sugar skulls representing death.
Finally, on the ground, it should be placed a path of marigold flowers, which are yellow, as they represent the light of the sun to guide the path of the dead was once his home.
And this is howevery November 2, tribute is paid to the ancestors and those characters that deserve to be remembered in a pleasant and honorable way.
The Day of the Dead: an ancient tradition full of life and color.