By Michelle da Silva Richmond
As you explore our resort this month you’re sure to notice the festive décor you’ll find throughout – especially in our La Joya and Viña del Mar restaurants. This is the time of year when Mexicans are gearing up to celebrate the unique pre-Hispanic tradition of “Dia de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) on November 1 and 2.
The ancient peoples of Mexico were obsessed with death and believed that it was necessary to die in order to be born again. To guarantee this rebirth, they set aside two months in which to honor those who had gone before them.
Abundant offerings were laid beside the sacrificial stone, as young men attired in feathers and jewels gyrated around it to the beat of Nahuatl music. Although this was basically a solemn occasion, it was “fiesta” time and a good excuse to drink pulque (a potent brew made from cactus).
Melding the Holidays
The evolution of this ancient empire was cut short by the Spanish conquest and it was not difficult for the conquering priests to persuade the recent converts to shift to their two-day celebration, known as All Saints and All Souls Day. The meshing of pagan and Catholic rituals which resulted, formed an interesting tradition in Mexico which lingers to this day.
This link to the past is long and not always clear but it is almost a sacred tradition in Mexico. November 1 is set aside for the children who have died; November 2 is for adults.
On these two days, everyone feels morally obligated to go the cemetery to honor their dearly departed and “convivir” (spend time) with them and in true Mexican style, a social happening takes places.
Typical Mexican dishes are painstakingly and reverently prepared and are toted – along with several bottles of the preferred drink – to the gravesite. Tombs are decorated with the flower of the season, the pungent “tzempazuchil” (marigolds, revered by them) and candles and incense are laid around the grave. Once the stage has been set, the gathering begins around midnight with prayers, ending in the wee hours of the morning with drinking and raucous toasting to the “continued good health” of the deceased.
In many towns, the homage takes place in the home, with altars festooned with flowers and photos of the late loved one prominently displayed with treats such as the traditional “pan de muerto”, a sweet, doughy bread with crossbones emblazoned on its crust, added to the display. Flowers, candles, incense, and some of their favorite foods are carefully set out in their honor.
The ancient Maya considered the cenotes (natural freshwater sinkholes) as the gateways to Xibalba or world of the dead and they conducted their ritual in those sacred sites. Today, their descendants follow that tradition, lighting candles and incense, and bringing marigolds and food to their mystical ritual.
In keeping with the unique celebration, Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun has a Day of the Dead altar at Viña del Mar and La Joya with colorful perforated tissue paper used for Mexican festivals, as well as Catrinas – costumed female skeletons created by 19th-century political print maker José Guadalupe Posada. Highlighting the menu will be pan de muerto.
Mexico’s fascination with death is legendary and although the celebration is beyond the comprehension of most outsiders, the event is an interesting one to observe.