Dia de Los Muertos 101

CumbiaSazo Dia de Los Muertos Altar

Words by CaliXta | Dale Shine

Día de los Muertos is a holiday that has its roots in the Mexica (Aztec) holidays of Miccail Huitontli and Xócotl Huetzi, which are celebrated from July 24 – August 12 and August 13 – September 1, respectively. Miccail Huitontli is a festival to celebrate and honor the lives of children/adolescents who have passed away, whereas Xócotl Huetzi is for adults who have passed (the majority). Central to these festivals is veneration for and celebration of Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Underworld. As the keeper of the Underworld and guardian of the ancestors, She is central to the process of life and death, and therefore to these two festivals of life, death and our ancestors. In addition, both festivals celebrate fertility and renewal, as these themes are deeply intertwined with life and death.

These holidays have been changed with the influence of colonization and Catholicism in what is now Mexico. The two festivals were refigured to take place during the two Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Nov. 1 and Nov. 2). Now, people celebrate Día de los Muertos November 1-2 or October 31-November 2. Many of the elements of Día de los Muertos stem from Catholic and Mexica symbolism, and from traditions from Miccail Huitontli and Xócotl Huetzi.

Many people use one day of celebration to honor children who have passed away, and the next day for deceased adults. Altars and pictures of the deceased are laid out to honor and celebrate loved ones who have passed away. Flowers symbolize fertility. Marigolds, in particular, are used as decorations as they lead the dead to their altars. Candles are used to light altars for the spirits who will come to their altars, as well as to purify the altar or space. Food, water, drinks, towels, clothes, soap, or the spirit’s favorite items are usually left out for the visiting spirit to refresh themselves on their journey. There are many symbols and elements that are used with a long history.

Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orchestra at CumbiaSazo, by J.Kotting

At CumbiaSazo this month (2014) we wanted to honor and celebrate musicians who inspire us who have passed away. To that end, volunteers & artists came together to create & include mini-altars and themed videos/decor on the main stage. Many of the participating artists & vendors honored Dia de Los Muertos in their paintings & crafts as well and we all thank you for respecting the space and altars that came together in this spirit.

References: Laura Gonzalez (www.brujalauragonzalez.com). Photos by William Camargo and Jenni Kotting.