Day of the Dead in Sayulita, Mexico 2015
History of Day of the Dead
El Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday, though it is acknowledged in other parts of the world as well. This holiday is centered on the gathering of friends and family to pay respects to and pray for loved ones who have passed on from this life. Before the Spanish colonization of the 16th century, celebrations of this holiday took place at the start of the summer.
Later on, however, it was moved to coincide with the Western Christian celebration of Allhallowtide, which includes All Saints’ Eve on October 31, All Saints’ Day on November 1, and All Souls’ Day on November 2.
The origins of the Day of the Dead can be traced back hundreds of years to the indigenous observance of an ancient Aztec festival that was dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. Today, however, the holiday is geared toward a more general tradition of honoring the dead. There are a variety of different rituals and traditions connected to the Day of the Dead in Mexico, many of which involve building private alters known as ofrendas, along with the gifting of sugar skulls, flowers, and food when visiting the graves of departed loved ones.
Celebrating the Day of the Dead
Celebrations for the Day of the Dead take place all over Mexico, though the festivities are particularly vibrant in the town of Sayulita. Sayulita is a village located about 25 miles north of the popular tourist destination, Puerto Vallarta. Although Sayulita only has a population of about 4,000, tourists and residents from all over Mexico gather in the town square to view the elaborately decorated altars dedicated to loved ones who have passed on. These altars are placed in the town square in the days leading up to the holiday on November 2, and many of them are decorated sumptuously with marigolds, sugar candy skulls, figurines, and even favorite dishes of those who have passed.
It is tradition on the Day of the Dead for friends and family to gather at the cemetery. Celebrations and rituals continue at the burial site, where graves and tombstones are decorated with candles that burn brightly throughout the night. Many Mexicans believe that their loved ones are actually present on the Day of the Dead and available for communication. It is not uncommon to hear prayers directed at those who have passed, in addition to the telling of anecdotes about the deceased. Some traditions even involve wearing noisy shells on the clothing to wake the dead.
As great a celebration as the Day of the Dead is in Mexico, each family has its own unique rituals and traditions. For many, the holiday is as much about honoring the deceased as it is celebrating the lives of those they left behind.