The Meaning Behind “Day of the Dead”

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November marks the beginning of “Day of the Dead,” a national holiday in Mexico that celebrates the lives of the departed. We found an interesting story that investigates its origins and how the holiday helps families cope with loss.
We think one reason “Day of the Dead” is special is because it sprung from the human wish to never be forgotten.

“Día de los Muertos” rituals are reminders of the connections between life and death,” said Peter Ward, a professor of sociology and public policy. “There is something comforting about knowing you will always be remembered.”

The holiday dates back 3,000 years to Mesoamerica. As a sign of respect for the dead, ancient Mesoamerican burial chambers were not sealed so families could enter the tombs to make offerings to their deceased ancestors. “Death and life were not separate states of existence for Mesoamerican communities,” said Julia Guernsey, assistant professor of art and art history. “For them, the living and the dead co-existed.”

For Mexicans, the holiday is not a time for mourning; it’s a time for celebration. “Mexican people revere death and do not fear the afterlife,” said Ward.

According to Mexican legend, there are three types of death: The first is when the body stops living; the second is when the body is interred and the final stage is when no one remembers you. The idea behind the holiday is “as long as someone remembers you, you will escape the third death,” Ward said.

“Looking the afterlife in the face is a powerful and cathartic exercise,” Ward said. “In many cultures, once people are buried they’re permanently separated from the living. But Mexicans confront death and view it as another part of life. That is a healthy and honest attitude.”

The celebration has become so popular it has spread to places like Texas, Los Angeles and Chicago as well as countries like Brazil, Spain and the Philippines.

“More people are embracing Día de los Muertos because it confronts death in a real and meaningful way,” said law student Adan Briones. “It allows you to find life beyond death.”

Read the story here.

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