Day of the Dead – a little early

For the first time, Mex and I went to an event celebrating Day of the Dead. Ironically, it was a celebration held at the Minnesota History Center which I personally found a little odd.

There were a lot of activities meant to entertain kids and then events which Mex personally doesn’t connect to the celebration like Aztec dancers (though the costumes are amazing and it’s hard not to enjoy the dances). However, the ofrendas were very similar to the ones in Mexico. In Mexican households and in the cemetaries each family creates an altar with all sorts of things that remind them of the deceased loved ones. Traditional items left at the ofrendas vary by state but there are basic similarities throughout Mexico. One such item is the pan de muerto, bread decorated with bone shapes, which can be found everywhere. Also, the bright orange cempasuchil flowers, similar to marigolds, are the “flowers of death” and are used all over the country. Celebrations start on what we Americans celebrate as Halloween with Mexican families setting up their altars and preparing for the deceased spirits to visit. The spirits of the children or angelitos (little angels) are supposed to revisit their families on earth in the early hours of Nov 1st.
Deceased adult spirits come to visit their families in the early morning hours of Nov 2nd. Usually the favorite foods of the dead person are laid out for their spirit to taste. Tamales, atole (a thick cornmeal drink), beans, rice, chocolate, a glass of tequila, etc, are some examples. Candles are lit and incense is burned. The families spend the evening and days remembering their passed loved ones.

Sugar and candy skulls are also sold in mass along with little candy coffins. In Patzcuaro, where Mexico’s most famous celebration is held, they sell skeletal figurines all year long. We saw them in March when we were there.
These traditions, although seemingly Christian in nature, actually date back to pre-Hispanic rituals dedicated to Mictlantecuhtli, the Mexica (Aztec) lord of the underworld, and Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec war deity to whom many people were sacrificed. In an attempt to convert the natives of Mexico, Spanish priests moved the date to coincide with All Soul’s Day. I guess the Aztec dancing does come in to play….
Though Mex’s family has been honoring his mother on Day of the Dead for 16 years, this will be the first year for his sister Hilaria who died of cancer last December. They also honor all the grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. Mex also has a sister who died at age 7 (who was older than him) and a brother who I believe was still-born (he isn’t counted on his mother’s line of births that’s on Mex’s birth certificate though) but the details are fuzzy on that since it was way before Mex’s time and his family doesn’t really discuss things like that. I hope next year we can go to Mexico during this time because I know Mex would like to be part of the memorial/celebration after being gone for so many years. I personally, think this is a wonderful idea and told Mex I hope we would do this tradition in our house when we have children or that we should even do it now. How nice to spend at least one day a year remembering those you love who are no longer with you. Something I bet not a lot of us take time to do after the initial grieving period is over.
For anyone interested in learning more about the Day of the Dead celebrations in the Twin Cities I will let you know about a few things I know that are going on. All of the events are FREE>
Friday the 31st – Dia de los Angelitos Traditional Aztec Danza at the Neighborhood House, 179 Robie St E, St. Paul. Starts at 7pm and is followed by music and food.
Saturday the 1st – 1-3 pm Sugar Skull making and information about history of Day of the Dead at the gym in the Neighborhood House (address above).
6pm – Gathering at La Placita, 175 Cesar Chavez St, St. Paul. A procession through the neighborhood starts at 6:30 ending at the Neighborhood house (address above) with music, food and a bonfire.
Sunday the 2nd, at Global Market in Minneapolis there is free Mexican food from 2-5 and I’m guessing some ofrendas will be there on display. I’m sure there must be events held at Mercado Central on Lake & Bloomington as well but I haven’t seen any information on those.

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Filed under Hispanic-Latino events in MN, Holidays and Celebrations

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