Wednesday, November 2, 2011

AMERICA: CELEBRATION OF THE DEPARTED - LOS MUERTOS

CATHOLIC ONLINE REPORT: The ritual is celebrated by Hispanic families in Latin America, the United States and Canada.

Traditionally, families spend some time on All Souls Day around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. Poems and written tributes are also shared.

Traditionally, families spend some time on All Souls Day around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. Poems and written tributes are also shared.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) – When the Spanish conquistadors landed on the shores of Mexico over 500 years ago, they encountered Aztecs celebrating a unique festival called “Dia del Los Muertos,” the Day of the Dead.

The celebration had been practiced for thousands of years in this civilization and has not changed a great deal even today, except for the incorporation of Christian symbolism and values. The natives believed that death was a transition for entering into a fuller life.

The dead were also seen as the protectors of the living and those who would reward good behavior and punish those who were bad.

People also believed that there were ways of communicating between that life and this one. They celebrated this fact in various regions sometime in July or August each year.

Mary J. Adrade, who has studied and written on the festival, stated that they would don wooden skull masks called “calacas” and then dance as a way of honoring of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars that were dedicated to the dead. Sugar skulls, made with the names of the dead person on the forehead, were eaten by a relative or friend.

The Aztecs and other civilizations in those regions also kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth.

The European colonizers, in seeing the similarities of the day with certain Christian beliefs, had the festivities moved to coincide with All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. A number of Christian practices were, at that point, incorporated.

The ritual is also celebrated by Hispanic families in the United States and Canada.

Planning for Dia del Los Muertos can almost a year-long process, but preparation begins in earnest the third week in October. In addition to decorating the altars, which can become quite elaborate, there are foods to be made ready and other work to be done.

Foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead are a major part of the annual celebration. These are left at the gravesites as well as eaten by the celebrants. Another holiday treat is “pan de muerto,” a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, often decorated with white frosting made to look like twisted bones.

Currently, two sequential celebrations, which honor the memory of loved ones who have died, take place. On November 1st, people honor the souls of the children. The altars are decorated with special designs predominantly using white flowers and candles. Then the souls of adults are honored on November 2nd. This is done using a variety of rituals, depending on the place where the festivities take place.

Everything is made ready by October 31st, so that the people could fully enter into the spirit of the celebration the next day.

While the celebrations can vary from region to region, normally, at 6:00am on November 1st a Mass is held for the “angelitos,” the deceased children. Afterward the people move to the cemeteries. Often, the little girls of the village come dressed in satin blouses and colored skirts, white stockings and shiny shoes.

Skeletons are plentiful during the event. Often dressed in costumes they are brought to the various parties and event to “watch over” the festivities.

During the two-day period, gravesites are cleaned and decorated with flowers, particularly orange marigolds, and candles. The people may also bring toys for the graves of children and bottles of tequila for those of adults. The family may even picnic at the grave, eating the favorite food of their loved-one.

During the evening of November 1st, the dances begin as the people shift their focus to honoring the adults who have passed away. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing, so that when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead; some will also dress up as the deceased. Midnight, according to the tradition, is the time when the dead return to enjoy the celebration with those who are living.

On November 2nd the altars that have been built in the homes become for focus of attention. Often the altars contain crosses, pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other Christian symbols.

Traditionally, families spend some time on All Souls Day around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. Poems and written tributes are also shared.

May Herz, writing for Inside Mexico, states, “The essence of this beautiful ritual is to lovingly and happily remember the dead relatives, their life, and in this way, give meaning and continuity to human existence.”
http://catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=34745

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