By Michael Horvich
Day of the Dead in Mexico represents a mixture of Christian devotion and Pre-Hispanic traditions and beliefs. During the pre-Hispanic era, death did not exist. Death was seen, instead, as simply a transition, a voyage through time and space towards true life.
The celebrations take place on two days. The souls of the dead children arrive on October 31st. As they depart on November 1st, their place is taken by the souls of the adults.
On these days, the deceased are believed to receive divine permission to visit friends and relatives on earth and to share the pleasure of living once again.
While the deceased are represented in skeletal form, the celebrations are not macabre, but rather portrayed with love, humor, and affections by both artists and participants.
On both days, the living and the dead are reunited at grave sites and home alters that are adorned with flowers, candles, sugar skulls (Calaveras,) skeleton figures, and the favorite food and drink of the departed.
The altar includes four main elements of nature: 1) Earth is represented by food and it is believed that the souls are fed by the aroma of food. 2) Wind is represented by a moving object, usually tissue paper flags (Papel Picado.) 3) Water is represented by a glass of water for the souls to quench their thirst after the long journey to the alter. 4) Finally, fire is represented by wax candles, one for each soul remembered and an extra one for the forgotten soul.
The dead are never forgotten because once a year they take their places beside the living to enjoy their love and the fruits and flowers of the earth.
-Mary J. Andrade, http://www.dayofthedead.com
-Jeffry Weiss, Arte Popular Miniaturas, Puerto