Friday, November 1, 2013

The Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead (November 2) is my favorite among all Mexican traditions. Sadly it is widely distorted by -or mistaken with- Halloween. Yet, the Day of the Dead has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween.

This tradition comes from the Aztec, who had this festivity to honor belated family and friends. It is believed that the souls of the departed are allowed to come and spend one whole day with their loved ones.

People go to the cemetery and adorn the graves with flowers, candles, the favorite food of their dead relative and pictures. In the case of children, they also bring their favorite toys. This is called the "ofrenda", the offering. Many, like me, don't go to the cemetery but make their ofrendas at home.

When I started with this tradition, I didn't really have any dead to honor so I asked Grandmother Dragon to "lend" me some dead. Happily, she helped me to put the offering for her ancestors.

Eventually, I learned what was to say good bye to those dear and close to my own heart. It was then that the Day of the Dead took a new meaning for me. My adored grandparents, some very good friends and pets I've loved as my children have all a burning candle on this day.

I look forward for the Day of the Dead as someone else would do for a very special party. Deep in my heart, I believe my beloved ones do come back to the cave to say hello and check on me and Mother Dragon. I prepare my offering so when they come, they see I have not forgotten them. This is their night and I welcome them with a smile, a prayer and my offering.

The traditional alter has a lot of symbolism.  It combines Aztec and Catholic beliefs (from the Conquest), as it happened with many other old traditions. The biggest sugar skull represents the Giver of Life. The four candles are meant to lit the four cardinal points, so the dead relatives can find their way home. Three smaller sugar skulls represent the Holy Trinity. Copal (incense) is burnt to purify the house, clear the path for the relatives' souls and chase the evil spirits away.

There is also papel picado (bright colored tissue paper with cut out designs). There are three important colors. Purple for pain, pink for celebration and white for hope. There is also Pan de Muerto, which is plain round sweet bread sprinkled with sugar and a crisscrossed bone shape lay on top.

November 1st is to honor the children's souls. November 2nd is for the grown ups. It is supposed that the souls start arriving at 8pm of November 2 and leave at dawn of November 3.

I lit all candles at 8pm and stay there for a while. I make sure the bread is nicely arranged, the toys are complete, the flowers are plenty and the food is ready.

I cannot forget Grandmother's coffee and grandfather's favorite sweet bread. White roses for my dear friend, almonds for my parrot son who must come on my grandma's shoulder. Plenty of dog awards for my several loyal friends who escort my grandparents and friends on their visit.

 I look at their pictures. I kiss and hug them with my thoughts and my heart. I thank them for all they gave me. When bed time comes, I tell them to enjoy their feast and I ask them to watch over us meanwhile the time comes that we all reunite again. The cave feels warmer and more cozy that night. I breath in kindness and love.

At dawn they will be gone and the cave will be unusually cold until noon. The feast will be over, but I will be looking forward for the next Day of the Dead. The one day the souls of our beloved ones are allowed to spend with us. The Aztec believed this, and so do I. This is, by all means, my favorite Mexican tradition.

In loving memory of:
Alfonso Diaz, Father Dragon "The Great"
Ma. Luisa Diaz, Grandmother Dragon,
my adopted grandparents, my adopted sister,
my dear friends and all my furry and feathery babies.
You live in my heart, always.
Today, Father Dragon lights a candle for your dead loved ones too.


  1. Thank you for sharing that with us. It sounds like a very moving day for all involved.
    I didn't realize it was a blend of Aztec and Catholic. But Holy Trinity - there is only one.
    Thank you for lighting a candle for our loved ones.

  2. Thank you Sir Dragon - tears in my eyes here.
    One of my dear friends lost her mother and was lucky enough to be in Mexico shortly afterwards. She found The Day of the Dead moving, healing and wonderful. And now celebrates it every year wherever she is (Peru at the moment).
    Thank you so much for lighting a candle for our loved ones too. I am very, very grateful.

  3. Aloha Al,

    I am truly appreciative of you in many ways, but today especially for sharing with us the general traditions of Dia de Muertos, but the personal reasons behind your many lit candles.

    I am sure your Grandparents and those others you remember are smiling as they enjoy and spend some time at your table and in your home.

    Blessings to them and thank you for thinking - as always - of others :)

  4. What a great tradition and thank you so much for sharing it with us Father Dragon. The Aztecs knew a thing or two.

  5. I love the color representations. With it being so recent for me, purple would be predominant with white coming close. I'm still a ways away from pink, but that will come in time. I do believe that Myra and Father Dragon "The Great" are swapping stories about us, both funny and sweet.

  6. Thanks Al, for sharing this post with us. It sounds like a sweet way to remember the dead and honour them.

    Al, I will let you know what I think of Krish 3 when I get to see it. Diwali is a bit of a hectic time, hopefully I will catch the movie soon.

  7. A celebration for those gone before, thank you for sharing that beautiful tribute! Our memories are now our blessing.
    Prayers and blessings for you and yours.

  8. One of my favorite celebrations! I have a few Day of the Dead figures on my blog. My students in Los Angeles introduced me to El dia de los Muertos, and I am the richer for it.

  9. You did such a beautiful job of explaining the traditions, and I learned a lot. Egyptians also do this by going to the cemetery and spending time in mausoleums. It's a wonderful way to keep your loved ones in your heart forever. <3

  10. What an amazing holiday, filled with a beautiful celebration of the lives who have left us. Thank you for sharing your tradition, and for so eloquently explaining the ceremonies.

  11. Thank you for your beautiful explanation of this holiday. All Saint's Day is special to me, and although it's different, I think it offers that day for prayers and remembrances for loved ones and all who have touched our lives and then gone to heaven.

  12. Thank you for the lovely explanation. I love the mix of the Aztec and Catholic traditions. The symbolism of the colors, candles, gifts, and even food. It sounds frightful (The Day of the Dead), but it is actually welcoming and gracious to those souls that have passed over. I like to think that they come around all of the time, particularly when we are in need, but I have no doubt that they love the time and effort you put in to welcoming the for a visit on this special day.

  13. What a sweet, loving post. Great pictures, too.

    I'm glad you posted this, Father Dragon. I thought Day of the Dead was a little creepy when I first heard the term and saw some of the little skeleton decorations and things. Now that you've explained it like this, I see it very differently.

  14. i'm screaming because i missed this...doh!!! thank you my sweet and lustrious dragon!

    traditions are amazing! i grew up my teen years in El Paso, so I know all about Dia de Muertos. I always found it quite fascinating and such a great way to cherish those that have passed on...through celebrating their life!

  15. Computer problems have kept me away, but I wanted to comment that I was introduced to Dio de las Muerta while living in the Caribbean. Now, back in the States it is not a tradition and I miss the local celebrations.

    Thank You for such a beautiful post, even if I am quite late.