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The Day of the Dead
Transcript of The Day of the Dead
The festival commands happiness because the Mexicans believe that tears will make the spirits path back home treacherous and slippery.
In Autumn, Monarch Butterflies migrate to Mexico, these delicate creatures are believed to the the souls of the deceased and their ancestors returning home.
Patterns and Culture
The Day of the Dead
- Dia de los Muertos
When the Spanish conquered Mexico they brought with them many Catholic traditions such as 'All Soul's Day' which focuses on helping the deceased into heaven to escape purgatory. This holy day combined with the established Aztec traditions and created what we now recognise as the modern-
Day of the Dead.
Produce a worksheet on the Day of the Dead. You may use this presentation for ideas, but your sheet must contain your own key points, images and illustrations you find by working independently. Remember to credit any artists work you include.
What is the Day of the Dead?
*Festival created by the Aztecs
*Held on 1st and 2nd November
*The dead are honoured by family
*Celebrated mainly in Mexico
The Aztecs developed the first version of the Day of the Dead around 3000 years ago. They believed death was to be celebrated and never grieved.
Originally, the Aztec festivities lasted a whole month, and it was believed that during this time the deceased spirits returned to their hometown.
Decoration, pattern and colour...
By now I hope you have realised that the Day of the Dead festival is a brightly coloured, lively celebration of life rather than a sad mourning event.
As we have seen, much of the decoration has developed from Aztec design mixed with Hispanic Mexican folk art. This style of colour and pattern has become recognisable all over the world.
The Mexicans believe that death is just a part of the circle of life, therefore the festivities that take place on the Day of the Dead are meant to be a happy and joyous celebration.
It is also believed that the souls return home to enjoy especially made alters (or ofrendas) which bear gifts and are carefully created by their families.
When the day is over, people come together in the street wearing masks and painted skeletal faces to scare the spirits away again.
Traditionally, the Aztecs wore Tiger masks as it was suggested that the spirits would be frightened by this very unusual sight because there are no Tigers in Mexico.
Alters/ Ofrendas and symbolism...
Each alter is personalised for the deceased soul. It contains many different items, each symbolising a different meaning and goal-
Religious Icons Candy Skulls
Candles Wash bowls
Incense Papel Picado
Wash bowls, soap and water are placed on the alters to allow the souls to clean themselves after their long trip.
Papel picado are delicate tissue paper cut outs that
often show scenes of dancing skeletons in traditional
Mexican costume such as rebozo (shalls), Charro (black and white suits) and the more recognisable sombrero hats.
Objects that represent the spirit when it was living are an important part of the alters arrangement, For example;
a carpenter may have a chisel and hammer,
a photographer may have a camera,
a hair stylist may have brushes and clips.
These objects are used to show respect for the work the soul did throughout their life.
Flowers and incense are widely used throughout the
whole festival in decoration and pattern, but their use
on the alter is particularly symbolic.
The official flower of the celebration is the Marigold. They are placed on the alters as tradition and legend has it that the scent from the petals will form a welcoming path for the spirits to follow.
Copal incense is used to clear the surrounding environment of bad energy, creating calm. Candles are present to light the way home for the spirits, but it is also believed that if the flame is accidentally blown out, the spirits will leave.
Food and drink are used on the alters for the spirits to enjoy.
Often the person designing the ofrendas will use the deceased favourite food, as well as traditional festival food such as pan de muertos (bread of the dead). For adults it is common to see liquor and cigarettes, and for younger souls, sweets and candies which are made into the shape of skulls, bones and coffins.
Skull is calavera.
Skeleton is calaverita.
Sugar skull is calaveras de azúcar.
The festival itself is dedicated to La Catrina which means 'lady of the dead'.
Folk art is traditionally produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other native trades people. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily decorative and useful rather than aesthetic. Folk Art is characterized by a naive style, in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not always used.
The Mexican illustrator Jose Guadelupe Posada (1852-1913) created many examples of skeletons that have become associated with the Day of the Dead.
He is often referred to as the father of la Catrina.
This work, although traditional is not colourful and vibrant as
the festival decorations are. So where do the colours used on the
sugar skulls, the alters and costumes come from?
Think back to all the objects, creatures and
traditional cultural patterns we have already
A big source of inspiration for the colourful patterns come from nature. The Marigold flower offers vivid colour, but also repetitive pattern in the shape of the petals. The Monarch butterfly has beautiful symmetrical wings containing colour and pattern. Even elements of happiness and joy such as the sun provide ideas for colour and shape, You can see how over the centuries all the history, traditions and beliefs have shaped the way Mexican culture has evolved and created the Day of the Dead festival we see today.
Aztec contribution= skulls and skeletons
Hispanic/ Mexican contribution= flowers/ nature/ symbolism/ colour
The following examples of skull illustrations, costume, sculpture and print give a good overall idea of the way in which pattern, shape, colour and design have all been used to keep the tradition of the celebration alive through art and creative practice. See how many elements of the patterns and colours you can identify as an influence from nature...
The Day of the Dead is not a sad occasion but a joyful tribute to life which encompasses elements of history, culture and nature to create a wonderful festival in which the deceased are remembered and celebrated by the whole community.