Death is a way of life as Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead

“Death always accompanies life" is a common saying in San Andrés Mixquic, southeast of Mexico City. The town is known for its legendary Day of the Dead celebrations. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

SAN ANDRÉS MIXQUIC, Mexico (RNS) — In popular markets in Mexico in the early fall, a passerby’s eyes are filled with the colorful ornaments and offerings dedicated to the deceased. With the approach of the Day of the Dead, known as Día de los Muertos in Spanish, death becomes a way of life in Mexico.

“It may just be possible to live after having died,” wrote the late Mexican poet Xavier Villaurrutia, and in Mexican families, the remembrance of loved ones is so frequent and natural that it can seem as if the deceased has never died.

For centuries, Mexicans’ devotion to death has been present in festivals, rituals, literature, music and other arts. Mesoamerican cultures celebrated death before Europeans ever came to influence the Americas. Many pre-Hispanic peoples of Mexico kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during rituals that symbolized death and rebirth. Pre-Hispanic gods such as Mictecacíuhatl, the “Lady of Death,” and Mictlantecuhtli, “Lord of the Land of the Dead,” are still prevalent in current Day of the Dead celebrations.

Janitzio, an island in Lake Pátzcuaro in the western Mexico state of Michoacán, has large, traditional Day of the Dead celebrations. Offerings of flowers, bread, fruit, food and candles adorn the pantheon, or cemetery, on the island. Locals sit through the night, contemplating the flames of their candles and murmuring prayers for the souls of the dead to descend from heaven.

The town of San Andrés Mixquic, southeast of Mexico City, has a somewhat more modern celebration of the holiday, with painted faces, store-bought decorations and technology mixing with traditional elements.

San Andrés Mixquic, a town southeast of Mexico City, has a long tradition of celebrating the dead. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

Incense burns in San Andrés Mixquic beside a fake coffin on the street, adorned with cempasúchil petals, as a Day of the Dead offering to deceased ancestors. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

A path of cempasúchil petals leads to the altar of the dead in a San Andrés Mixquic home on Nov. 1, 2018. The petal path is thought to lead deceased spirits to the home and the offering. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

“Uncle Betito’s grave is always adorned with yellow and white flowers because he died when he was a child,” said the Rodríguez family while making Day of the Dead preparations in San Andrés Mixquic on Nov. 1, 2018. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

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