From ancient indigenous rituals to modern celebrations. Remembrance, respect and prayer for the dead, with flowers and food.
The origins of the celebration of the Day of the Dead are found in the ancient indigenous traditions of the Aztecs, Mayas, Purépecha, Nahuas and Totonacas who, for three thousand years, performed rituals dedicated to their ancestors. These rituals symbolized death and rebirth, which were represented with the skulls of the dead in pre-Hispanic times. The celebrations were presided over by the goddess Mictecacíhuatl, known as the 'Lady of death', corresponding to the modern 'la Catrina', and they were performed to honour deceased children and relatives.
The Spanish conquistadores of the 15th century tried to make the indigenous people of Latin America adopt their Catholic beliefs, but what they accomplished was more like a compromise; a blend of beliefs. The Spanish conquerors succeeded in shortening the length of the Mictecacihuatl festival to two days that conveniently corresponded with two of their own Catholic holidays: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, which take place on 1 and 2 November each year.
How the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Latin America
November 1 is the day when the souls of deceased children come to visit their living loved ones, while on 2 November the visits of deceased adults are celebrated. During these festivities churches and cemeteries are decorated. People build altars to welcome the dead. The altars are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds) mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan de muerto. Toys and candies are left for the souls of the deceased children.
Mexico, welcome the spirits of the deceased
Although marked throughout Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is most strongly associated with Mexico where, due to its proximity with the United States, Halloween celebration has also become very popular. Nevertheless The Day of the Dead is still the most important festivity in the Mexican calendar. The holiday is celebrated according to tradition in villages and small towns and with a touch of modernity in the cities.
Central America, as symbol of gratitude
In Guatemala, blessed souls are believed to get out of cemeteries and appear in some places. Therefore, many leave a glass of water, a candle and a photograph of the deceased on the altars that are built at home. People visit cemeteries, clean and decorate tombs with the typical Guatemalan yellow flower of the dead which only blooms at this time of year, while cypress is used for the decoration of houses and meeting places where private celebrations among family and friends include a great feast.
In El Salvador the Día de los Muertos is celebrated on 2 November. Although on a smaller scale in comparison with other Latin American countries, Salvadorans observe the tradition of their roots and remember the dead on this day, but besides remembrance, people here also celebrate the life of the living people.
In Honduras and Costa Rica people go to cemeteries to make offerings as symbols of gratitude for the graces received from Saints. They also decorate graves with crowns and palms to pay tribute to the deceased.
Peru, like a birthday party
In the rural areas, the spirits of the deceased are believed to visit the living ones and on those days, therefore, the celebration can be extremely festive, almost like a birthday party. Often, a special meal will be made of all the departed's favorite foods on 1 November, with the first and largest plate being placed on a type of shrine. Along with the food there is also the person's favorite drink, his photo along with candles and small models of the things the deceased wanted or enjoyed in life. Offerings are left on the altar all night long in order to let the deceased, who are believed to come back home, enjoy them. On 2 November, the families will go to the cemeteries to continue the celebration with food, drinks and music.
The most important part of all of this, however, is to talk about the people being remembered and what made them special. In some areas of Peru, there are still communities that go to the cemetery on the night of the 1st, with the belief that the dead will rise from their graves at midnight to partake in the feast. They may even choose to stay at the cemetery all night, continuing the party throughout the following day. In the cities, the party is a bit more reserved and typically involves visiting the cemetery with offerings. This can include flowers, food, drink and miniatures. This festivity is celebrated with joy and it is the occasion for family gatherings to talk about and remember the deceased while sipping coffee.
Pope Francis Mission Intention for November
"That within parishes, priests and lay people may collaborate in service to the community without giving in to the temptation of discouragement." Let us Pray.
We often talk about the good old days when things were better. We even have the idea that in the good old days of the early Church there was only harmony and peace. Not so. A quick reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul reveals many conflicts. Some were due to ethnic and racial differences (Acts 6: 1), different theological views (Acts 15: 1-2; Galatians 2: 11-14), or jealousy (1 Corinthians 1: 10-12).
It's hard to believe that good people, working together for a good cause, trying to serve God, end up fighting. This can lead to discouragement which in turn leads to people walking away from God's service.
The Holy Spirit - the Paraclete (a word that means the Consoler or Encourager) - never uses discouragement to de-motivate us. Only those who disown God - and thus humanity - sow seeds of division and are happy to lead us down the path of discouragement and despair.
Pope Francis said: "Let us always remember that the Adversary wants to keep us separated from God and therefore instills disappointment in our hearts. Every day the devil sows the seeds of pessimism and bitterness in our hearts. Let us open ourselves to the breath of the Holy Spirit, who never ceases to sow seeds of hope and confidence."
We ask the Holy Spirit this month to bless our parish communities with all the graces necessary to overcome those things that lead to division. May priests and lay people recognize one another's unique gifts and use them to build up the Church.
Romans 16: 17-20 Be wise as to what is good and simple as to what is evil.
Pope Francis General Intention for November
"That the countries which take in large numbers of displaced persons and refugees may find solidarity and support for their efforts." Let us Pray.
We pray for refugees regularly but this month Pope Francis asks us to pray with him for the countries that receive these refugees.
Where do most of the world's refugees come from? Around 54 percent of the millions of refugees in the world come from three countries embroiled in war and religious persecution-Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Other notable countries from which people are fleeing in their millions are Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
Which countries host the most refugees? It's no surprise that they are the more stable countries that border the areas of conflict-Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon. In 2011 there were 8,000 refugees in Lebanon. As a result of the Syrian conflict, the number swelled to 1.15 million in 2014. That's a ratio of 232 refugees per 1,000 residents. Lebanon is not a wealthy country loaded with the resources necessary to provide for the basic needs of refugees. Its government is limited in what it can do. It and the other countries receiving refugees must rely on the help of outside organizations.
One such organization is the Jesuit Refugee Service - Middle East and North Africa (www.jrsmena.org). Besides providing emergency assistance to Syrian refugees, they also meet needs that governments are unable to meet, such as psychosocial support and education. Our faith-filled prayers are powerful, especially when we join acts of charity to them. In this way our solidarity with those most in need will make the biggest difference.
Leviticus 19: 33-34 Have the same love for the alien as you have for yourself.
Institute Intention for November
"That all the Comboni Missionaries (male and female, religious and secular) who have ended their sojourn upon this earth, may enjoy the vision of the Lord for whom they have always toiled." Lord hear us.
Fr. Giuseppe Frigerio MCCJ († 27/9/2016)
Prayer of the Month
O Lord, to whom no one is a stranger and from whose help no one is ever distant, look with compassion on refugees and exiles, on segregated persons and on lost children; restore them, we pray, to a homeland, and give us a kind heart for the needy and for strangers. Amen.
--From the Roman Missal