Fascination with the Afterlife: The Return of the Dead
While many Americans view death with fear, anger, and anxiety, Mexicans maintain a vital bond between living and deceased family members, recognizing the Day of the Dead as a time to celebrate life while remembering those who have passed on. It is believed that the souls of the dead return for one week each year to visit friends and family and partake of the pleasures they knew and loved in life.
The origins of this festive celebration predate the Aztecs, and the native tradition survived the arrival of the Spanish missionaries by mingling with the imposed observance of the Catholic Church’s All Souls Day. Some rituals for El DÍa de los Muertos have remained unchanged over the centuries, and much preparation goes into the making of ofrendas of fruit, flowers, special pastries, and handicrafts for the dead, who are thought to begin to arrive on November 1.
Special foods (and the occasional bottle of tequila) are laid out for the breakfast and dinner of departed loved ones. The cemeteries are full of people cleaning, painting, and decorating the tombs and graves of their ancestors. Family altars incorporate photographs, simple or elaborate flower arrangements with orange marigolds, or sometimes nothing more than a plain candle.