Day of the Dead celebrants rejoice in eternal life - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Day of the Dead celebrants rejoice in eternal life

Skeletons call to mind loved ones who have departed. (Source: WECT) Skeletons call to mind loved ones who have departed. (Source: WECT)
Some individuals choose to paint their faces for Day of the Dead celebrations. (Source: WECT) Some individuals choose to paint their faces for Day of the Dead celebrations. (Source: WECT)
Altars like this one greet the souls of loved ones upon their return from the dead. (Source: WECT) Altars like this one greet the souls of loved ones upon their return from the dead. (Source: WECT)

MEXICO CITY (RNN) – It may sound like a day of morbidity and death, but the Day of the Dead is actually a celebration of loved ones who have passed and their lives here on Earth. On Thursday, millions of people throughout Mexico, Latin America and the U.S. are taking part in the traditional holiday.

Vivid symbols of the day are the decorative skeletons that call to mind loved ones who have departed. The day is full of joy, and instead of mourning, relatives rejoice in the afterlife and prepare for lost souls to visit.

"It is a happy day because the old souls return to Earth," Helen Narvaez said. "It's not a sad day if you believe in eternal life."

In Central Mexico, the observance can be traced to the ancient Aztec civilization and one of their gods of death.

As the legend goes, on the night of the Day of the Dead, Mictecacihuatl opened up the underworld, allowing the spirits to come to Earth and eat and drink offerings that were left for them. For the culture, death was a continuation of life.

When Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico, they merged this celebration with the Catholic feast day known as All Saint's Day. And hundreds of years later, the holiday remains an integral part of life.

"It's a huge deal in Mexico. They put up huge offerings on altars in the grand plazas of big and small cities and towns, for example," Monica Narvaez, niece of Helen, said. "And downtown Mexico City has many altar offerings, too."

Mexico City, after all, is where the capital of the Aztec Empire once stood. So it's no surprise that the city goes all out for the holiday.

"They go out into the cemeteries where their loved ones are, and on their graves, they lay offerings," Helen Narvaez said. "And they fix the graves, and they paint them, clean them up and cover them with flowers."

Monica Narvaez, who was born and raised in Mexico, has done this since she was a child.

"When we put up the offering, we put marigolds, confetti, copal incense, sugar skulls, et cetera," she said.

Monica is a culinary student, so money is tight. She won't be able to place an offering this year, but she will observe the holiday, which holds many cheerful memories for her.

"I remember years ago going downtown to see the offerings and saw lots of Aztec dancers dancing all night long," she said. "You could join in when they 'opened the entrance,' which is a space in their circle where you can jump in. And you cannot stop until it is opened again."

In the southern state of the Yucatan, which is located in the southern part of Mexico, the holiday is celebrated differently due to the region's Mayan influence.

Helen, who is a native of the capital city Merida, describes the holiday as "a very big day."

"It's like Thanksgiving here, except it's the souls that we are celebrating," she said.

The holiday is called Hanal Pixan, which is translated to "meal of the souls" in the Mayan language. Beginning on the last day of October, those who have already entered the afterlife are permitted to return home to their families.

Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 are dedicated in memory of departed children and departed adults, respectively.

The Pixan Mass, or u hanal picanoob, is celebrated Nov. 2 by a priests in local cemeteries. The Mass is dedicated to all souls.

For the feast, families prepare altars for their loved ones on which they place special tools for the souls to journey back into the afterlife. Traditional items include a cross, candles, water, salt and incense.

Photos of dead relatives and their saints are placed on the altars, along with items that were meaningful to the loved ones during their lifetimes. For example, if you were a smoker, a package of cigarettes may be placed on the altar, or beer or other similar items. Children get toys, and bottles of milk or chocolate.

A special dish called muci pollo, which Helen describes as a tamale pie, is baked and placed on the altars. It is eaten by the living relatives with a special drink of hot chocolate.

During the celebrations, family members also visit the tombs of their ancestors and clean them, so their ancestors find them orderly upon their return.

For Helen, home is now America, where she will spend the day at Mass and visiting her son's grave, celebrating eternal life all along.

"Death is part of life," she said."It's the one thing that we've all got to go through."

Copyright 2011 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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