Have you seen the new Barbie doll that the American toy manufacturing company Mattel just launched a couple of months ago? It has to do with an ancient Mexican celebration that has caught the eyes of the world due to its uniqueness and deep meaning.
I remember when I was a girl, going with my mother and my brothers to the market in Coyoacan at the beginning of November, to get a sugar skull with our name written on the forehead. They came in different sizes and they were piled up in the market stand, waiting for the children to pick the one with their name on it.
It was so much fun and the best part was when you ate them, yummyyyy!
Another thing that I remember clearly, was going to the bakery to get the bread for this special occasion. Nowadays you can still enjoy it and you can only have it during the month of November. It has a round shape and some decorations made with the same dough, with the intent to resemble human "bones"
Another memory that comes to my mind was writing "calaveras" at school and even at work. "Calavera" literally means "skull" and what Mexicans use to do during this time of the year, is to write verses making fun of how people would die or their encounter with death. You are allowed to write about anyone: your teachers, your boss, your parents, yourself. It is a nice tradition and nobody takes it wrong.
Here is an example of how a "calaverita" would look:
This means something like Maria was very happy because she had her silver but then she realized that the "Death" was wearing it all. Then the "Death" told her not to worry, that she would take care of Nueve Sterling, because Maria (me) was gonna die. I know, it sounds kind of creepy but for us is not.
Yes, I am talking about the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). It is an ancient celebration that dates back to the pre-Hispanic era. Day of the Dead festivities unfold over two days in an explosion of color and life-affirming joy. Sure, the theme is death, but the point is to demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members.
Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. It takes place on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest.
So, the sugar skulls, the bread, the calaveritas are very popular during this celebration but the altars (ofrendas), are the most beautiful way to pay a tribute to those who are no longer with us, to ensure they are not forgotten. The ofrendas are the link between living and dead and what you do is basically build them in different levels to represent, for example, heaven and earth. Then you display flowers, candles, sugar skulls, water, the photos of the dearly departed ones and their favorite meal. This is with the object to guide and feed your dearly ones' souls, as they venture in their journey to the other side.
Pátzcuaro, Michoacán; San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato; Mixquic, Mexico City; Oaxaca and some other places are very well known for the special way they celebrate these festivities.
And starting from 2016 to date, a monumental parade in Mexico City has become a recent tradition. I personally have not witnessed any but I've seen photos and videos, and they look spectacular!
Many movies, books, documentaries have been inspired by this Mexican celebration and recently, Mattel launched their last limited-edition Barbie. It is a "Day of the Dead" doll to honor the Mexican celebration. Check it out in this link, it's really cool: Day of the Dead Barbie Doll.
Recent pictures such as "The Book of Life" (click here) (2014, 20th Century Fox) and "Coco" (click here) (2017, Pixar) are two examples of animated fantasy films based on this festivity. They are beautifully produced and both reflect the spirit of this holiday, recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Mexico is a country of traditions, and this in particular is a special one that will live in the heart of us Mexicans forever.
PS, I forgot to say the Mexican "Day of the Dead" celebration has nothing to do with Halloween ;)