Opening scene of James Bond, Spectre, it’s a Day of the Dead parade. A spectacular scene, in itself, make all the more memorable for it’s costumes. Of course we know it was all staged for the film. But here’s a thing, Mexico City has never had a real life Day of the Dead festival. Until now. The film created a huge interest and eventually the government said YES to a parade.
Day of the Dead
There are parades in other cities though. In Pátzcuaro, the streets are filled with dancers and paraders, dressed in skeleton costumes. There are candle-lit parades and light displays, and lots of other events.
What’s it all about though?
The Day of the Dead festival has a long history. It dates back some 3000 years to an Aztec tradition. It was a summer festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. Don’t ask to pronounce that, we’d only embarrass ourselves.
Meanwhile in Europe, pagan traditions of honoring the dead, merged with Christian festivals celebrating saints (All Saints, or All Hallows day). The result was Halloween (literally: the eve of All Hallows). The whole lot got stirred up into a slightly confusing matter (some sectors of the Christian church have never been comfortable with the celebration of Halloween). And then delivered to Central America during the 16th century. Gradually, as Central American traditions morphed with pagan traditions from other parts of the world. The festival moved from the summer to the 1st November in line with All Hallows. And it came to be a celebration honoring dead souls.
Celebrating the dead
So what happens on the day? Well, graves are swept and decorated with flowers. Alters are built in houses, and decorated with photos of the deceased. There are picnics (sometimes by the graves of the dead relatives). And sometimes even campouts by the graves. Food is left out for the souls of the dead. Prayers are said. And of course, like all festivals worth the name, there’s special food.
The Food, tell us about the food
If there’s nothing else, there’s always bread, water and salt. They’re needed for feeding the dead souls. (Who take the soul of the food, leaving the earthly bits behind for the living).
But of course, there’s traditional party food too. Day of the Dead bread is pretty essential. It’s a sweet, bread that is sometimes decorated with shapes like bones. Or shaped into animal or human or skull shapes. Then there’s the sugar skulls, and figurines.
It all sounds like a blast. It’s already such a popular festival, it’s spreading to the southern parts of the USA, along with it’s Mexican community. Wonder how long it will be before it takes off in the rest of the world?