Day of the Dead: Not just a Mexican Holiday
Though many people in the US, including some Latinx, connect Dia de los Muertos to Mexico, it’s not just a Mexican holiday. When it was started some 3000 years ago, in what is now Mexico, many of the indigenous people in the southern part of Mexico were nomadic, moving up and down the continent, using the isthmus, that is now called Central America, as a bridge between the north and the south. As they moved, they took their traditions with them wherever they went and did a cultural exchange, if you will, with other indigenous people moving through the region. When some of these folks settled in what is now Central America, their traditions lived on in the indigenous people that still live in the area.
Many different countries in Latin America celebrate a form of Dia de los Muertos. The ones that I could find for sure are:
El Salvador- called Dia de los Difuntos
Haiti- called The Vodou Festival of Fete Gede
Peru- Dia de todos los Santos (11/1) and Dia de los Difuntos (11/2)
Venezuela- Dia de todos los Santos (11/1) and Dia de los Difuntos (11/2)
Though not all of these countries call their tradition Dia de los Muertos, they all are rooted in the celebrating and honoring of their dead. Because I’m Nicaragüense, I’m going to focus on it, but I encourage you to do some research on how other countries celebrate, if that interests you.
Nicaragua and Day of The Dead
In Nicaragua, you won’t find marigolds or papel picado on November 2nd. What you’ll find is a procession of people moving from their homes to the cemetery, holding beautiful flowers of every kind ready to be placed on the graves of loved ones who have passed. Not only will you see flowers, but you’ll see people, mostly men, carrying rakes and machetes to the cemetery to help beautify the graves by clearing the grasses and vines that have overgrown over the last year.
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated at the cemetery, so no altars, no pan de muerto. You’ll see baskets full of food, blankets or chairs to sit on. After families clear and beautify the graves of their loved ones, they settle in for the rest of the day, with their loved ones, both alive and dead, telling stories, sharing a meal and laughing until the sun goes down. Even then, some may stay well past midnight sharing the in the delight that their loved ones were there to celebrate, even if just for one day out of the year.
Just like the Mexican ideology behind their celebrations, Nicaragüenses believe that the line between the living and the dead is blurred during this time, which means that going to the grave of their passed loved ones means that they’re sharing a meal with them, that even death cannot keep them apart. It’s a beautiful and sacred tradition no matter where you celebrate it.
In my quick research for on this topic, I learned about another tradition in Nicaragua, specifically in Masaya, which is historically a majority indigenous area. Los Aguizotes is a celebration done on the last Friday of October. On this day, people from all over Nicaragua come dressed up as Aguizotes, which have been come to denote the legends and folklore from Nicaragua. From witches and devils, to skeleton oxen pulling carts, people gather in the streets dancing, playing music, eating and even doing some flame throwing! It looks like a blast and hopefully, I get to check it out one day!
Did I miss a country in Latin America that celebrates Dia de los Muertos? Let me know in the comments below. (Or maybe even a country outside of Latin America that has a similar tradition!)