November is the month of the Catrinas and Sugar Skulls, the traditional decorations with the eye-catching yellow colored Cempasúchil flowers, the time where the scent of Copal fills the air along with the taste of Tamales, Pan de Muerto, sliced pumpkin, sweet corn gruel and purple corn. It’s the tradition that identifies what’s close to us and what’s ours, keeping the memories of our loved ones who’ve gone to Mictlan, or if desired, they’ve taken their journey to the stars. It’s a celebration that unites distant pre-Hispanic cults, with religious catholic elements brought from Spain during the conquest.
Nowadays, this celebration takes place in almost every part of Mexico with some variations, depending on each region characterizing themselves with the elements of this festivity. Some of the most famous offerings come from Janitzio, Tzintzuntzan, Mixquic, Mitla, Xochimilco and Papantla, among others.
In some villages in the Mexican states of Guanajuato and Michoacán the offerings that are placed on the altars of “Little Angels”; as they are known for those who passed away as children, basically consist of skulls, sheep, chickens, fruit baskets and other figurines made by craftsmen that are made of sugar dough, gelatin, and lemon juice, better known as Alfeñiques. Other things that are placed on altars include masks and carton Catrinas (skeleton), paper cutouts, food and toys, as it is accustomed in the village of Cortazar, former Otomí settlement who’s name used to be Degno-Yahhiu, which means place of Amoles, which comes from the Nahuatl word amolli which is a sort of tuber used by the Aztecs as a detergent, and that can be found in this region. It is located at the bottom of the Culiacán hill on the banks of Laja River located south of the State of Guanajuato.
Traditional Offering Elements:
Cempasuchil Flowers (Orange Marigold): they come in yellow and fade into orange and are used to set a “path” for souls. “Flores de Nube” are used on the altars of “Angels” or little children.
Candles: the candles light up the altar, showing the exact location of where the deceased’s loved ones await for them.
“Pan de Muerto” or “Bread of the Dead”: symbolizes resurrection.
Water: it is placed in a cup or clay jar so that the soul of the loved one can cool their thirst after such a long journey. It is also used as a purifying element.
Salt: it is an element that symbolizes eternal life, since it prevents the decomposition of flesh.
Paper Cutouts: used for decoration because of its bright colors.
Sugar Skulls: they are generally placed on the altars of “Little Angels” or children, because it is known that children enjoy candy, also, it is a custom to hand out sugar skulls to family and friends with their names on it.
Carton Skulls and Skeletons: they are placed on the altars dressed like the deceased person would dress as a tribute to their memory.
Incense: used to purify bad energy.
Personal belongings are also placed on the altar; along with pictures of the deceased and things the departed enjoyed, such as tequila or cigars, crucifixes or religious images.
JP Mexican Popular Art, Project of Promoting Art and Culture, invites you to participate in this tradition, which purpose is to maintain the memory of those who loved us and have passed on, alive. You can do so by placing a simple offering in your own home and not forgetting that Day of the Dead is a day to celebrate life.