Day of the Dead History

Day of the Dead History
Day of the Dead History

Day of the Dead history goes back quite a long time. In fact, most scholars agree that the holiday has its roots in celebrations that indigenous cultures from Mexico partook in some 3,000 years ago. As the name of the holiday would suggest, the celebrations were linked to the dead, with the intent largely being to honor the deceased. As a result, skulls, whether real or fake, have long figured among the main Day of the Dead images.

Day of the Dead history certainly began before Spanish explorers started arriving in Mexico in the 1500s. Having evolved over time, the modern-day version closely reflects an Aztec celebration. This celebration kicked off around the beginning of the month of August, and it lasted a full month. A goddess that is referred to as the "Lady of the Dead" was honored, and her image is reflected in the catrina dolls that figure among contemporary Day of the Dead art pieces.

In relation to facts about the Day of the Dead, the Aztecs and other civilizations from the region were known to collect real skulls that they displayed during their versions of the holiday. Also, earlier natives of such civilizations actually embraced death instead of fearing it. It was simply seen as a rebirth of sorts, and some cultures saw this rebirth leading to true enlightenment. Understandably so, the Spaniards who observed Day of the Dead celebrations were confused about the whole thing, especially since it appeared to them at first that it was merely a celebration that served to mock the dead.

Day of the Dead Makeup
Day of the Dead Makeup  Image: Nick Ludlam (flickr)

The Spanish, in their quest to convert indigenous peoples of the New World to Christianity, essentially tried to put an end to such festivities as the Day of the Dead. They obviously didn’t succeed in stamping out this unique celebration, however, and it has come to be celebrated in many places outside of Mexico. Neighboring Guatemala celebrates the holiday, for example, and it is especially popular in the Latin American world. Outside of the Latin American world, the Czech Republic is among the countries that have taken to the holiday, thanks largely to the Mexican embassy that can be found in Prague. Due in part to the fact that it borders Mexico, the United States is also an example of a non-Latin American country that hosts its fair share of Day of the Dead celebrations.

Top image: Larry1732 (flickr)
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