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DÐ"­A De Los Muertos

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DÐ"­a de los Muertos

When you first walk in the door there is a path lined before you with marigold flowers, or as the Hispanic call them cempasuchitl. This path leads you into a room where a grand altar is erected. This altar is decorated with a variety of flowers, food, photos, etc. Is this a normal occurrence in this home? Yes, but not a daily one. This is special; for the day of the dead. It is in honor of a soul that had passed on before, and is expected to visit. From an American perspective, this would be considered a mournful and somber occurrence, but in these homes, it is joyful and elated. This day is accompanied with many historical practices, traditions, and beliefs.

The early indigenous people, namely the Aztecs, celebrated the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar Miccailhuitonli, presided over by the "Lady of the Dead," Mictecacihuatl. This month was dedicated to deceased children and the dead, and coincided approximately with the end of July to the beginning of August. Another indigenous group, the Nahuas, celebrated Mihkailhuitontli, in celebration of deceased children, and Mihkailhuitli, in celebration of all deceased. When the Spanish conquered the indigenous peoples of Mexico they coincided these days, that had been celebrated for over 3000 years, with the Christian holiday "All Hollow's Eve" in an effort to evangelize the natives. November 1st then became the Day of all saints, dedicated to deceased children. November 2nd then became the liturgy, dedicated to all deceased saints.

This custom derived from the belief that the souls did not die, that they continued living in MictlÐ"ÐŽn, a special place for them to finally rest. This place was created by the benevolent gods and is called the Place of Death. This place is dark, but not necessarily somber. Here the spirits

Rest placidly and wait, not for judgment, verdict, or resurrection; here they wait until they can visit their earthly homes to visit their living relatives.

The festivities of this occasion, actually start on October 28th. The family begins buying flowers, food, candles, etc. to decorate the home and the altar. Also, the altar is erected and decorated. The altar is essentially decorated according to the four elements of nature: earth, wind, water, and fire. The earth is represented by crops; it is said that the souls are fed by the aroma of the harvest. The wind is represented by a rapid and fluid moving object such as tissue paper. The water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long journey from MictlÐ"ÐŽn to the home. The fire is represented in wax candles; each soul is represented by a lit candle, and there is an extra candle lit for the forgotten soul. Salt, copal, and a mat are also present at the altar. The salt is spread for purification. The copal, an inscence native to the land, is burned to guide the saints to the altar with its aroma. The mat is placed at the food of the altar for the souls to rest on after their journey. The altars are generally shaped according to the gender of the deceased. The altar of a male is generally in the shape of a cross; the altar of a female is generally in the shape of an arch. A few personal and favorite items of the deceased are then placed on the altar. Eventually the family will gather to wait and pay homage and offer companionship to the souls.

This vigil, however, does not officially begin until the morning of November 1st. That morning the men gather together, if they live near a lake, to hunt duck They hunt using long spears, and when the duck is in flight they hurl the spear and kill the duck in flight. The duck is then heavily spiced and served as an offering for the visiting souls.

Shortly afterwards, and sometimes during, around seven in the morning, the children and their families gather at the cemetery and the graves of their deceased to hold vigil. This vigil is called the Vigil of the Little Angels. The little girls are dressed in silk blouses, colored skirts, white stockings, and shiny shoes. This white pinafore is the customary dress. The little boys carry flowers and lit candles to the graves. The children have the same attitude as the adults do; death is a



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