Dia de Los Muertos

More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years.
Today the ritual is known as Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is observed on November 1st in honor of the dead children, and on November 2nd for adults.
Although the ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skulls, which symbolize the dynamic duality of life and death.
Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.
However, the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious, and the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan. In their attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried to kill the ritual. But like the old Aztec spirits, the ritual refused to die.
Today, people don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars dedicated to the dead that are decorated with pictures, candles, incense, and flowers. They play their dead loved one’s favorite music and make their favorite foods in the belief that the dead have come back to visit during the ritual.  
I absolutely love this tradition, in part because it blurs the finality of death, reminding us that it is simply another level of consciousness, but also, I adore it for its passionate celebration of the here and now.
And the art…it’s colorful, comical, morbid, expressive, irreverent, alive and kicking with spirit!!! Is that not the definition of art itself?
Sadly, here in Baja the people don’t celebrate the day of the dead much anymore. There were some altars displayed at the mall and one in front of a bar (I kid you not), but that was about it. Too much gringo influence, I suspect. Thankfully, though, it’s still going strong in mainland Mexico.
As the old saying goes, “everyday is a dance with death,” so you might as well make it a rumba! -STEVIE


  1. Every day is a frickin dance with death surfing over here. I broke my second surf board yesterday. Two down! For some reason our family is a magnet for sharp rocks.

  2. Did you hear about Andy Irons? Sad. At the rate you're breaking boards it looks like you may be taking up fishing after all. Let me know, I'll send you some rods.

  3. Why do you have to surf by ROCKS?! Why not just surf off some nice long sandy beach? . . . .Big mellow rolling waves -(NO rocks, soft beach) – makes sense to me!
    Dancing the rumba is cool – but NO dancing too close with "Death"!

  4. Here in the states we had a much more traditional Halloween celebration with lots of candy and costumes. You should see your niece and nephew dressed as snow white and a kitty cat ghost (the pink ears were just too cute!). Jaeden was some type of dead dolly fairy thing and Nico was Sonic the Hedgehog. I don't know about Nica and Theo, but Jaeden and Nico filled their big orange pumpkins twice. Nico had a great system of eating a piece of candy from each house. I thought he would eventually puke, but he held it all together and even asked for candy for breakfast. We'd send you some if I didn't know it would all melt by the time it got to Mexico. We'll eat a piece with you in mind.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Rae has summarized well about how things went down here. I just did a little research about the hx of Halloween in the states which seems to be more Influenced more by Celts. We didn't celebrate Dia Los muertes growing up but I'm inspired to learn more. I love learning through you guys. I love the notion of dia los muertes.

  6. i must say that this is my most favorite posting thus far……..partly because im a morbid scorpio that is well accustomed to the under world, and partly because i see the writer is stevie BLOOMING. of course, the writer in stevie is partly stevie, the person, but i happen to believe that art, in its best manifestation, is an expression of something greater than oneself, and that we mere mortals are simply the vehicle for that greatness that we are simultaneously at-one-with and apart from. please keep writing. as you well know, i am a lit snob, and cannot savor even the most brilliant ideas if they are poorly conveyed. i see you having deep insights, and conveying them powerfully. your writing is like food- it nurtures me, and im sure others feel the same. as we (still) attempt what to do with our lives, in terms of work, i am reminded of my most favorite quotes about WORK:"A vocation is what you are called to do with your life. An ad vocation is something you do other than that." –William Everson (Birth of a Poet) READ IT

    vocare- the calling
    clearly, writing is calling you. heed the call, sweet one. 'tis your duty.

  7. Alexis Schulman says:

    Imagine how awesome it would be if instead of fearing death we embraced it. What a sense of freedom the ancient world must have felt.

  8. Stevie, Tree, and Kiki says:

    Thanks Reagie for the loving encouragement!!! I love day of the dead so this post was a pleasure to write.

    Mamasuya, can't wait to see ya!!!! xoxo.

    Rachel and Indra, I hope that someday in the not soooo distant future (I'd like the kids to still be kids) we can all get together from the 31st of October to the 2nd of November to celebrate both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Those are by far my two favorite holidays.

    My dear ENGAGED sister, it's not too late. We too can embrace the freedom of fearlessness. Let's start by promising to each other that if I die before you or you before me, the living sister will build an altar, play music, make meatballs, light candles, and dance with her dead sister every year on day of the dead. xoxo.

  9. Alexis Schulman says:

    Meatballs it is!

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