Las Dias de los Muertos
Coinciding with the Halloween season is Mexico's Day of the Dead. The two day festival celebrates and remembers the ancesters who have passed away. As so many holidays, the festival was created by the pre-christian peoples and was co-opted by the Catholic Church in order to appease the masses who had celebrated the holiday for untold generations.
One observance includes the making of an alter in the home decorated with calaveras, which are stylized skeletons. Although alters vary with both decoration and content there are three basics. Water- to quench the thirst of the dead; Salt to season the food and for purifacation; and Bread to ease the hunger of the dead. The alter is set up to make the dead comfortable, if the deceased was a smoker then a pack of cigars or cigarettes are placed on the alter, if the deceased was a child then extra sweets will be added to the alter. Candles and Incense are burned so that the dead may be drawn to the alter.
Skulls and other ornaments are wrought in sugar and chocalate as tasty treats for the dead. Other observances include decorating the gravesite of relatives with elaborate colors and wreaths, a parade to the graveyard, and then an extended family reunion for the living and the dead to come together.
One reason for the holiday is due to the short amount of time for viewing of the deceased before burial back when embalming techniques were less than adaquate. The holiday allows family members a day of remembrance in the fall for those who have passed in the year before. The legend of the actual holiday goes back to the pre-hispanic peoples of Mexico who believed in three different kinds of death. The first type of death was when bodies cease to functon and the heart no longer beats of it's own accord, when our gaze no longer holds weight or meaning and the space we occupy slowly loses all of it's meaning. The second death is when the body is lowered into the ground and is returned to mother earth out of sight. The third and most definative death is when there is no one left to remember us.