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Posted October 29, 2005 by publisher in Cuban American Culture

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By JEAN WILSON | Columbus Telegram

As people in the United States get ready for Halloween, some people in Mexico are preparing for Day of the Dead traditions.

Although they are different, both are rooted in the traditions of the Catholic Church and center on its commemoration of All Saints Day on Nov. 1.

Dia de Los Muertos - Day of the Dead - is actually two days.

Deceased infants and children are honored on Nov. 1, and deceased adults are honored Nov. 2.

Yara Dorantes of Columbus came here from Mexico City about 18 years ago when she was 9 years old. She can remember her grandmother and aunt following several of the traditions of Day of the Dead.

An important part of the Day of the Dead activities is visiting cemeteries. The favorite food of the deceased is brought along, as are colorful flowers - usually marigolds - to decorate the grave. Dorantes said some people bring along a guitar to play songs after the grave site is cleaned and decorated.

In homes, an “altar” is prepared to offer love to the deceased. A tablecloth is topped with photos of the loved ones as well as favorite foods.

“Nobody can touch it until the next day,” Dorantes said.

Stores and street stands in Mexico start selling candy skulls a few days before the Day of the Dead celebrations. The sweets are made of sugar or chocolate and are exchanged between school children and friends, she said.

Tres Hermanos in Columbus doesn’t carry any of those sweets, according to Victor Gonzalez, who works there.

He said the tradition is not observed in the United States because the ancestors’ graves are so far away.

Gonzalez remembers how the Mexican government helped to keep the tradition alive there. When he worked at a radio station in Guadalajara, Jalisco, and the Day of the Dead drew near, the usual discussions on politics were set aside for Dia de Los Muertos.

He said some of the traditions go back more than 400 years to before the Spaniards invaded Mexico.

“They offer favorite foods, drinks, anything that reminds them of the person,” Gonzalez said. “They don’t eat it (at the cemetery), they leave it there. ... They’re thinking the spirit of the person is there.”

He said he remembers Day of the Dead celebrations lasting three days, from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, which is All Souls Day in the Catholic Church.

“They celebrate every person whether good or bad because they still think their spirit is there, and there’s a chance they can still feel the presence of the people leaving the gifts,” Gonzalez said.

The celebration was described by Gonzalez as very sacred.

On the island of Janitzio in the state of Michuacan, tourists come from all over the world to celebrate the Day of the Dead, he said. Every state has different traditions.

Mexican legend says a person dies three times, according to Gonzalez. The first time is when the heart stops beating. The second time is when that person is lowered into the ground. And the third time is when there is no one left alive who remembers the deceased.

The interview with Gonzalez was interpreted by Isabel Hernandez of Beaver Crossing.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 20, 2007 by Zeandra

    This information is very interesting and helpful to me. Since I have Hispanic people in mi familia I really enjoyed reading this.

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