When I went downtown to observe the Day of the Dead celebrations, I was extremely interested in the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to the celebration. I wondered if they would be participating in the celebration. The picture to the left is an altar set up in the Cathedral downtown. I was very interested to see it, and it looked exactly like the other “ofrendas” that were outside (see my video of the celebration).
November 1 and 2nd are catholic holidays. All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day are celebrated on those two days, and the date of the current Day of the Dead celebrations has a lot to with the catholic church. Some sources say that before the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, the celebration of the Dead was the whole month of August, not the first two days of November. So, it can be said that the timing of the modern celebration is another result of syncretism between ancient religious beliefs and church beliefs of the 1500s.
The fact that the Day of the Dead coincides with the All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day is no accident. It seems that the beliefs are a mixture of catholic traditions and indigenous practices. The belief in Mictlan, the place of the dead, comes from before the Spaniards arrived, as does Mictlantecuhtli, the god of hell and death. These beliefs and many others were mixed with the beliefs of the Spaniards, and what we have today seems to be a continuation of this mixture.
I’m by no means an expert on this subject, but I am continuing to observe and identify the culture to better understand the worldview of those with whom I am working. A person’s concept of death has a lot to do with their beliefs about God and religion. It’s good to research and try to understand these things, as it helps us to better form what we believe about the same things.
Sources: Day of the Dead – Wikipedia; Encarta; All Saints’ Day
Related: Festival of Colour, Mockery, and Family; Cottrill’s pics; My flickr set