Mexico’s Day of the Dead Takes Over New Orleans

Courtesy Skinz n Bonez
Courtesy Skinz n Bonez
Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos is migrating north, and in New Orleans it found a hospitable welcome as sugar skulls, installation artists, and Anne Rice celebrate death in life.

In one of the subtler dramas of immigration, the Mexican ritual called Day of the Dead—home altars and cemetery-visits surrounding November 1, All Saints Day—has spread like a rushing river to such gringo outposts as Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tucson, and New Orleans.

Day of the Dead parades follow a cross-cultural flow, embellishing Halloween stylizations of the dancing skeleton. The calavera, or decorated skull, is an archetype of Mexican popular culture.

Mexico’s Dia de Muertos custom of decorating home altars with blossoms, candles, fruit, and photographs, like the visits of the faithful to cemeteries, scattering flowers and sharing meals among the graves, bespeak a human welcome to the beloved dead residing in the world of the spirits.

Roots of this tradition lie deep in the cultural memory of Mesoamerican Indians. Before the 16thcentury, Spanish conquest, the Aztecs saw the skull as a symbol of rebirth. They envisioned warriors lost in battle, and women who died in childbirth, as honored spirits, circling the sun like hummingbirds.

As missionary priests transplanted Christian rituals, Indians embraced the idea of purgatory, a zone of souls waiting for release, by inviting family spirits to the feast of autumn harvest. As the fusion of Indian and Spanish tradition evolved, public festivities took a commercial turn.

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Source: The Daily Beast | Jason Berry

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