You may have noticed this year, next to the Halloween decorations, many stores have been carrying fanciful skull items, planters, plates and napkins, garland, skull candy and cookie baking kits – all with white faces and brightly colored details. These decorations are all made to be used in the Day of the Dead celebrations as they celebrate it in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. Day of the Dead has been around for about 3000 years – a tradition that is observed in many countries throughout Latin America to honor and remember the dead. Celebrated in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2, celebrations vary from one country and region to another and can be traced back to the indigenous cultures.
Although the “sugar skulls” are not used in Guatemala, Dia de los Muertos is a significant family holiday that is celebrated on November 1st. The role of family and ancestors is very important in the Maya Mam culture, and this day honors your ancestors who have passed on. Although the cemetery in Cajolá is colorful on a regular day, on this day it is overflowing with flowers, plants, and people. The paths – which have been covered with festival greens in the morning -- are hidden under throngs of people and you will likely run into everyone that you know.
Some families stay all day, and bring along lunch and a marimba band! Everyone brings food offerings to leave at the graves, to nourish those who have gone before. The small chapel is filled with a marimba band and traditional dancing. The streets surrounding the cemetery are filled with vendors of flowers, food, soda, and toys for the children. In the afternoon, people fly kites in the cemetery. The kites represent the spirits of your ancestors, and the string that connects you to the kite is your communication with them. Steeped in tradition, and very different than the American view of death, Dia de los Muertos is a celebratory day to honor and connect with ancestors after their death.
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