THE DIA DE LOS MUERTOS – DAY OF THE DEAD
Due to the seafarer’s of yester year, many people who originally hail from South American countries now call Fuerteventura home. During November, they celebrate a very special day known as The Dia de los Muertos, or The day of the dead.
The Day Of The Dead Origins
The Day of the dead was originally a month-long holiday celebrated by the ancient Aztec tribes. But when the Spanish Conquistador’s invaded South America they tried to eradicate this very important ancient ritual, but were unsuccessful. So instead, they took a more subtle approach and combined the ancient Aztec celebration into the Christian calendar by linking or aligning it with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. ( November 1st and 2nd )
Honouring The Dead
What was once month long, soon became a two-day celebration, but the purpose of the festival remained unchanged and was two days set aside to honour, remember and mix and mingle with loved ones that have passed. Today, the day of the Dead is predominantly celebrated in Mexico and other South American countries, who’s roots lay in the Aztec culture. The holiday is a time for friends and family members to get together and celebrate and remember loved ones who have passed on.
A Time Of Celebration
This holiday is not a morbid affair, even though many of the costumes are spooky and have an obvious death theme. It is actually a time for remembering the lives of those that have passed and celebrating them. They are celebrated with music, partying and grand street parades which take place on the 1st and 2nd of November. Unlike Halloween, this is not considered a spooky or macabre time, It is actually seen as a time of celebration and a genuine time for remembering loved ones. It is also a very magical time, as during these two days it is believed that the spirits of the dead can come back and mix and mingle with the living.
The families prepare for this holiday by cleaning up gravesites, preparing special alters and creating a very special feast which contains all the favourite foods that the lost souls enjoyed when they were alive, in the hope of enticing them to come back and pay a visit.
Offerings & The Elements
Around the end of October, most of the grave sites across Mexico begin to burst into colour as alters are made and decorated at the graveside. Private alters are also placed in people’s homes, but not before the house has been swept from top to bottom and emptied of all furniture first. Once clean, the alter is set up in the empty room and a brightly coloured cloth is draped over it. On top of the cloth a bowl of water, a razor, and other toiletries are laid out, so that the spirit can have a wash and clean up after their long journey. Offerings are also placed on the cloth such as photographs of family members, items which held special significance to the deceased or just things they enjoyed when they were alive, such as a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of tequila. Once everything is prepared, candles are then lit, to help guide the spirit on its way. Additional bursts of colour in the form of decorations are also made, such as tissue wreathes, crosses and flowers. Then once everything is nicely decorated, the feast is prepared and laid out to nourish and feed the travelling spirits soul. These offerings represent the four natural elements; wind, water, fire and earth. The paper flowers for the wind, the bowl of water for water, the candles for fire and the food from the earth.
Another very important offering that is made especially for the The Dia de Los Muertos is a sugar skull. These are colourful skull decorations that date back to around the 17th Century. According to the writings of Angela Vilalba from the Reign Trading Company, Italian missionaries visited Mexico and as the area was so poor and lacking in raw materials, taught the locals how to make things, such as decorations, from the one thing that they had in abundance, sugar. The sugar mixture was pressed into skull-shaped moulds and dried. Small sugar skulls were made for the children that had passed and were celebrated on the 1st November and large skulls for adults, celebrated on the 2nd. Once the sugar had set and dried out, they were painted with colourful icing, feathers, foil and sequins, just like they are today. The last thing to do before placing it on the alter as an offering, was to write the name of the spirit on the skulls forehead.
The dishes that are laid on the alter and enjoyed by the relatives during the celebrations are also very traditional and include a bread called Pan de Muerto or Bread of the Dead. The dough is made into a round shape to represent the circle of life and tiny dough bones are added to the top. A tiny tear drop is also added to show sorrow, before it is baked in the oven and topped with sweet glaze and coloured sugar. Another dish that is often prepared is Calabaza En Tacha, which is a sweet dish made from left over pumpkins. The pumpkins are oven baked and then boiled in a sweet orange and cinnamon sauce made from pioncillo, which is a pure dark sugar similar to molasses. This thick sweet glaze is then left to harden, producing a crunchy, sweet pumpkin candy.
November in Fuerteventura
Nowadays, although there are a lot of people in Fuerteventura that originate from South America and countries like Mexico, the Day of the Dead is not really celebrated. Instead, as Catholisism is the main religion on the island, it is All Saint’s and All Soul’s Day that are more widely observed. You will see candles on sale in shops and supermarkets, adorned with the images of Saints and prayers and these are bought by family members and placed on graves. The candle is lit as a sign of rememberance and Mass is held for those that have passed. In some, the names of the decesed that have passed that year are also read out and families can be comforted by prayer. But, on the whole, although in much of South America The Dia De Los Muertos is a huge affair and a chance to party, in Fuerteventura, Halloween ( 31st October ) is the day to let your hair down and go wild. The days following it, are purely for remembering lost loved ones, visiting their graves, lighting candels and saying prayers.