Life over death: what Day of the dead really means

The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living. The love you gave in life keeps people alive beyond their time. Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Considered by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Day of the Dead or Día de muertos is a very ancient Mexican celebration. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, several ethnic groups living in what we know today as central and southern Mexico had a series of festivities to honour the life of their ancestors. Please note a key concept: honour the life! So yes, Day of the Dead is intended as a celebration of life beyond death.



Yes, honouring the life of the deceased!

Contrary to what many people think about the Day of the Dead, this celebration is intended to remember the lives of our beloved ones. According to the tradition, that has evolved given the incorporation of catholic elements brought by the Spanish people, on this day, our dead come back from the afterlife.  As I don’t want to redo and repeat the amazing work made by some researchers, I will suggest you to take a look at the following links to know more about this festivity:

Dia de los muertos
Top 10 things to know about the Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead: A unique understanding of death

How do families celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico?

In addition to the altars which may or may not be built privately, depending on each family, a MUST activity is the visit to the cemetery. We clean the graveyards, put flowers on them and spend time with our “gone too soon” beloved ones. Some people would go to the cemetery’s church to pray for the souls of their dead. I usually stay near the graveyard and talk to my people living in the after-life. I’m zero religious, but very spiritual, so yes, I like to give them updates regarding my plans, projects and life in general while asking for some guidance.


What about the Mexican in Montreal?

The past years I’ve been far from my home city, so, I celebrate the Day of the Dead here in Montreal. Because the Mexican community comes from different places in Mexico, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what other people do during this holiday. Many of them eat the Pan de Muerto, which is a sweet bread that is decorated with dough made “bones”. I have friends who build altars, that even if simple, have all the essential elements like pictures, the dead’s favourite foods, objects, etc. There’s also the different Mexican events organized by various community groups. Oftentimes they do a big altar dedicated to a celebrity who has recently passed away.

Main message being…

What’s important is to always keeps something in mind: Dia de muertos is NOT the Mexican Halloween! NOOO, people, please, NO. Halloween is what it is and yes, many Mexicans do celebrate it as well. But Day of the Dead has a completely different meaning and is far from being dark and mischievous. The Day of the Dead is a celebration intended to pay our respects to Death. We see it as a natural phase of life. From the moment we are born, we know we’ll die someday. That’s why we don’t fear death. We of course mourn our dead, we go through grief and all its stages. But we see that beyond such a sad event, there is a natural path of life that we have to follow. We believe that dead people are in a better place and we honour the many things they have left us. We hope that one day we’ll see them again, and maybe, we’ll visit together our living people on November 2!