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DAY OF THE DEAD

Updated on April 25, 2013

Da de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos is a holiday rooted in the ancient past of Mesoamerica. My ancestors were in awe of the eternal cycle of life and death and believed in the need for sacrifice to assure the continuation of life. The Aztecs of past honored those who have passed on with great feasts, sacrifice, ritual, dance, and sacred art that depicted their beliefs and customs. After the trauma of the Spanish conquest, their beliefs persisted by adapting them to the holidays of the Christian calendar. Although much of the ancient indigenous religions were lost, the core aspect of the days of the dead was kept. This core consists of the altar with offerings to the dead.


In a concerted attempt to reclaim their indigenous roots, the people of Mexico and Central America took this heretofore completely sacred and private expression of devotion and memorial to new heights. Dia de los Muertos ofrendas and exhibitions can now be found in Mexico, Texas, and the Southwestern United States.

For more information, visit the Day of the Dead Dolls page at The Mystic Voodoo.

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Check out my Day of the Dead artwork featured in the new book
Day of the Dead Crafts: More Than 24 Projects that Celebrate Dia de los Muertos


Celebrated on November 1 and 2, Day of the Dead honors the memory of departed souls, welcoming them back to celebrate the best of life. Families decorate grave sites with marigolds and set up stunning altars. Streets flutter with paper banners. Store windows glisten with sugar skulls. Skeleton figures grin rakishly from every corner. Day of the Dead Crafts is filled with dozens of terrific projects that allow you to participate in the excitement of the holiday while expressing your own creativity. You'll enjoy showcasing these unique, fun, and meaningful projects throughout the year.

Inside you'll find step-by-step instructions, ideas, and inspiration for a wide range of projects, including:

* Calaveras, those comical and clever skeleton figures caught in the act of enjoying life's favorite activities
* Masks and skulls made from paper maché, gourds, and even sugar
* A meaningful and artistic ofrenda, or altar, to honor those who have passed
* Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more to wear day or night
* Pieces guaranteed to liven up any décor

Colorful, whimsical, and often dramatic, Day of the Dead art is steeped in rich history and symbolism. The projects in Day of the Dead Crafts honor the traditional, while taking advantage of today's materials for a fresh and exciting twist.

Humor and Whimsy

Many of the symbols found on the altars of today are the result of the melding of Spanish and indigenous art and religion. The indigenous cross of the four cardinal points became the Christian cross, and the Tree of Life became the Garden of Eden. The Spanish brought elements of the Feast of Fools associated with carnival (farewell to flesh) where everything is open to ridicule, mockery, and lightheartedness. Everything is equal in death; no one escapes its inevitability. This is where the humor and whimsy associated with today's los Das de los Muertos in all likelihood stems from.

During the latter part of the colonial period, the people began making brightly colored sugar -candy skulls and exchanging them between family and friends as tokens of affection. These became common items alongside the image of Guadalupe, flowers, water, bread, and copal. Skeleton dolls made of clay and paper mach were made depicting people in everyday activities. These dolls soon became a part of tradition.

Decorative Skull Art

There has been a bold resurgence to the ancient tradition of Mexican Skull Art. The use of Skulls and skeletons in art however, originated before the Conquest: The Aztecs excelled in stone sculptures and created striking carvings of the Gods. Coatlicue, the goddess of earth and death, was portrayed with a necklace of human hearts, hands and a skull pendant. She was imbued with the drama and grandeur necessary to dazzle the subject people and to convey the image of an implacable state. The worship of death involved worship of life, while the skull - symbol of death - was a promise to resurrection. The Aztecs carved skulls in monoliths of lava, and made masks of obsidian and jade. Furthermore, the skull motif was used in decoration. They were molded on pots, traced on scrolls, woven into garments, and formalized into hieroglyphs.

Day of the Dead Skulls

Day of the Dead Skulls
Day of the Dead Skulls

Day of the Dead Handbook

Day of the Dead Handbook
Day of the Dead Handbook

The Day of the Dead Handbook describes the history of Day of the Dead, characteristics, how to make a Day of the Dead altar, and three notable artists associated with the holiday. There is a section on Day of the Dead crafts and recipes, ways to honor your ancestors and Day of the Dead proverbs. For such a little book, it is jam packed with information...81 pages of it!

 

The Nagual

The ancient Aztecs believed that when a person is born they get a nagual, an animal spirit companion who would be at their side throughout life as a soul partner. Animals were honored and revered because they acknowledged the sacred interdependence between humankind and the animal world. Even today, the indigenous people are well aware of the fact that without our animal relatives we would cease to exist. Animal skeletons and skulls are a common element on the Day of the Dead altars and represent the sacred passing of a family pet or Animal Spirits. Our animal relatives are appeased with offerings as are our ancestors.

Hand Painted Racoon Skull

Hand Painted Racoon Skull
Hand Painted Racoon Skull

When Alejandro Santiago returned to his hometown in Mexico, he was saddened to find how empty the town was. So he decided to repopulate the town with clay statues. Check out this crazy but very cool artist's story here:

Mexican Town Eerily Populated by Clay Statues

Catrin and Catrina


The Day of the Dead characters Catrin and Catrina were made popular by renowned author, journalist and political cartoonist Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913). He is credited for popularizing the Day of the Dead celebrations, especially through the creation of skeletal cartoons that capture the Mexican attitude towards death. The name Catrina means "dapper," and she reflects the fashions of the times.

Catrin and Catrina Day of the Dead Dolls available from The Mystic Voodoo.

Catrina Fashionista

Catrina Fashionista
Catrina Fashionista

Catrina Fashionista

Catrina Fashionista
Catrina Fashionista

Catrina

Catrina
Catrina

Frida and Diego

Frida and Diego
Frida and Diego

Frida Kahlo


Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter, who has achieved great international popularity. She painted using vibrant colors in a style that was influenced by indigenous cultures of Mexico as well as European influences that include Realism, Symbolism, and Surrealism. Many of her works are self-portraits that symbolically express her own pain. Kahlo was married to and influenced by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and shared his Communist views. Although she has long been recognized as an important painter, public awareness of her work has become more widespread since the 1970s.

Frida Kahlo Day of the Dead Doll available from Frida Kahlo.

Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera was a communist and world-famous Mexican painter, and husband of Frida Kahlo. Diego Rivera was a notorious ladies' man who had fathered at least two illegitimate children by two different women. In fact, he was still married when he met art student Frida Kahlo, whom he eventually married. Their mutual infidelities and his violent temper led to divorce in 1939, but they later re-married.

DAY OF THE DEAD VOODOO DOLL

El Corazon del Muerto

As a Voodoo artist from New Orleans, I come by this traditional art form honestly through my earliest traceable ancestors, King Xicotencotl of Tlaxcala and Pedro de Alvarado, a Spanish conquistador.

Here is an example of El Corazon del Muerto.This Day of the Dead art doll was made combining the traditional styles of the New Orleans Voodoo doll craft and the contemporary Mesoamerican decorative design.

Wedding Couple

Wedding Couple
Wedding Couple

Day of the Dead Bride

Day of the Dead Bride
Day of the Dead Bride

Dia de los Muertos on Amazon

Feliz Cinco de Mayo

Feliz Cinco de Mayo
Feliz Cinco de Mayo

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    • kislanyk profile image

      Marika 5 years ago from Cyprus

      Actually it is also extremely popular in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe. It is a rather somber tradition, nothing to do with funny celebrations. It is simply the day when we (at least in Europe) remember the dead, visit their graves, put fresh flowers, clean the headstones, lit a candle...

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 6 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Well written and illustrated interesting page. I didn't know anything about the Day of the Dead before I read it. Blessed by an Angel.

    • SacredCynWear profile image

      SacredCynWear 7 years ago

      I love this lens! Every Dia de los Muertos we go to Mexico and honor family members that have passed. We leave them a meal, some water and keep them company, we also tidy up their habitat. I am so glad to see this lens!

    • SacredCynWear profile image

      SacredCynWear 7 years ago

      I love this lens! Every Dia de los Muertos we go to Mexico and honor family members that have passed. We leave them a meal, some water and keep them company, we also tidy up their habitat. I am so glad to see this lens!

    • SuperZoe LM profile image

      SuperZoe LM 7 years ago

      Cool lens! Love the pictures of the skulls too! 5 Stars!

    • profile image

      Artcamp_IT_Studio 8 years ago

      The Day of the Dead is the most beautiful of all Mexican fiestas(this fiesta lasts at least a week in all is various observances)here are some songs of the native taxco composer raful krayemthey were composed in the 1930s, performed by veteran musicanstraditional mexican culture is a riot of color, design and good musichttp://www.squidoo.com/beautiful_music_of_Mexico Music of MexicoGood work on this lens. It is a pleasure to see such good explanation.

    • CrypticFragment1 profile image

      Tammy Winand 9 years ago from McleodGanj HP India

      me gusta mucho tu photo del SQUID en su sombrero!lolI love Dia de los Muertos

    • profile image

      Aika 9 years ago

      fantastic lens. But those Voodoo Dolls looks scary. >_

    • profile image

      allysa 9 years ago

      never heard this kind of holiday before but thanks to your lens. I have now an idea about Da de los Muertos. Gracias!