I've been very busy lately with some of my projects, and I am happy to say that they are coming along great! But I really do miss traveling the world and sharing my adventures with you. So, I decided to take a little break, and hop into my red air balloon for an excursion (short trip)! My hot air balloon surprised me with a trip to Mexico City in the country of Mexico. Mexico is located on the southern tip of North America just under the United States of America.
It is the 14th largest country in the world and home to beautiful beaches, ancient pyramids and cities, lush jungles and volcanoes. I landed in a community on the southern tip of Mexico City called San Andrés Mixquic, in a cemetery! Spooky! At least, I thought it was spooky until I saw how all the tombs were decorated with flowers, sand sculptures, and many, many candles. It was such a beautiful sight, I couldn't wait to find someone to ask what was going on!
Map of Mexico-Photo By Peter Fitzgerald (Own work based on the blank map of Mexico) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
While I was walking through the cemetery, I noticed most of the flowers being used in the decorations were called marigolds. These are cute little flowers, and they don't smell all that great (although they smell a lot better than the corpse flowers in my home country of West Sumatra). Their pungent smell isn't the only scent around though, there were many incense that filled the air with a sweet and smoky smell.
Photo By © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons, [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
I met a nice family, the Garcia's, and their children, Miguel and Rosa, while they were decorating the grave site of their beloved great-grandparents. I remembered that I learned how to say hello in Spanish when I visited Chile, so I went up to them with a big smile and said, "¡Hóla!" They were very surprised to see a talking sun bear, but smiled at me and said "¡Hóla amigo!" They then explained to me that they were preparing for Dia de los Muertos, the famous Day of Dead celebration, by sharing stories of their deceased loved ones and cleaning and decorating their graves.
Dia de los Muertos could be one the oldest celebration in the world because some of the rituals were practiced by ancient Aztecs! The Day of the Dead is also celebrated throughout the world in Catholic countries, but because Mexico was under Spanish rule for three hundred years, the ancient Aztec traditions have blended with Catholic ones to create the customs that are celebrated in Mexico today.
Miguel explained that the belief is that on November 1st and 2nd, the spirit realm is open, and loved ones that have passed away can come visit their families during this time. November 1st is more for the young angels, the "angelitos", so the families will spend all night on October 31st in the graveyards so that they can be there at midnight when the angelitos first arrive. While standing vigil that night, families will share stories to remember their loved ones and think of the good times they shared together. November 2nd is when the families will celebrate the older spirits.
Rosa's favorite part of the celebration are the ofrendas, the shrines families put up almost everywhere, but mostly in their homes and on grave sites. These can be very expensive, sometimes costing two months' salary for some families. They are covered in candles, food, flowers, and incense. For shrines to angelitos, there will also be candy and toys! I kept seeing these huge loaves of bread called pan de muerto, and on almost every ofrenda there are beautiful little sugar skulls.
Sugar skulls, also called calaveras, are a very old tradition where the artisan creates a mixture of sugar and water, like candy, and pours it into a clay mold. When the mixture cools down, it becomes hard, and the artisan decorates it with beautiful colors, gems and icing. Sometimes, when you buy a sugar skull for an ofrenda, you can add the name of a lost loved one on the head of the skull. This way, it acts like a little "welcome back" sign! It was amazing to see sugar skulls made in person by artists that have been using the same clay molds for 50-100 years, handed down from generation to generation in their families. I love sugar skulls and how each one is unique and special in its own way. So, I wanted to share how you can make your own sugar skull at home. Check out these instructions on how to make Dia de los Muertos Sugar Skulls.
The video below will give you a better look at sugar skulls and how they are made.
Dia de los Muertos Parade in Zocalo, Mexico City-Photo By nmarritz (own work), [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.
The decorations don't stop at the grave sites though! The Garcias invited me along and I got to see people get dressed up in costume and have parades from their homes to the cemeteries. The parades had all sorts of amazing sights and sounds. There were live bands that you could hear from far away, and people dancing everywhere! The costumes were so beautiful, from simple face painting to fancy dresses. There were even giant paper mâché heads that some people had created! My favorite was a smiling skull that I saw.
Miguel also told me that Dia de los Muertos isn't just celebrated in Mexico. It is also celebrated in Italy, Spain, the Philippines, Central and South America and parts of the United States like Texas, Arizona and California. Giant Calavera de la Catrina in the Zocalo, Mexico City-Photo By Randal Sheppard (own work), [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.
Watch the video below to see more about this beautiful festival!
I had so much fun with the Garcia family, and everyone here in San Andrés Mixquic! This is such a fascinating festival! Even though it is celebrating those that have died, the festival is so colorful, energetic, and full of spirit that it is like the dead have come back to life!
Day of the Dead Coloring Page
Check out my coloring page that is a picture me on the path up to the monastery Parroquia San Andrés Apóstol Mixquic. I'm really excited to see what amazing sugar skull designs you'll paint on my face, and the colorful decorations you'll help me put on the walkway. Don't forget the ofrendas!
This monastery was originally destroyed by the Spanish invaders in 1521. It was rebuilt, then destroyed again by an earthquake around the year 1600. The version of the monastery that you see in the picture was finished around 1620. It keeps coming back to life! It is a good setting then for the Day of the Dead celebrations!
Movies and Books to Learn More About Dia de los Muertos
I also learned from Rosa that there is a great movie called The Book of Life, have you heard of it? She said if you want to see more art inspired by Dia de los Muertos, this is a great movie with a sweet story, fun music, exciting adventure and colorful characters. Here is a picture of one of the characters from the story made by our illustrator.
Another great movie that shares Dia de los Muertos is called Coco. Have you seen it? It is about a talented and curious young boy who discovers and connects with his family through the celebration of The Day of the Dead. The music, animation, and cultural representation is beautiful. I highly recommend it! Photo Above By Coco (2017 film) - Own workThis PNG graphic was created with Inkscape., Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
If you have seen the movies and want to let me know how you liked how they shared Dia de los Muertos, please ask your parent or teacher to help you send me a message on my website. Enjoy!
I also wanted to share some great books that you can read to learn about The Day of the Dead via Colours of Us.
Thank you so much for joining me for this special tradition in Mexico! Don't forget to ask your parent, guardian or teacher to send in your finished coloring pages to me at email@example.com so I can post them
on my website and share your unique creation with others!
¡Adiós amigos! (Goodbye friends!)
--Joy Sun Bear