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Sugar, Colonialism, and Death: On the Origins of Mexico's Day of the Dead

  • Stanley Brandes (a1)
Extract

Mexico's most famous holiday is, without doubt, the Day of the Dead. At the end of October, large numbers of foreign visitors descend upon Mexico to witness colorful—some would say carnivalesque—ritual performances and artistic displays. Decorated breads, paper cutouts, and plastic toys, most of them humorously playing on the theme of death, are evident everywhere. Sculpted sugar candies in the form of skulls, skeletons, and caskets suggest an almost irreverent, macabre confrontation with mortality. During November 1 and November 2, Mexicans clean, decorate, and maintain vigil over the graves of relatives. Tombstones and burial sites are adorned with flowers, candles, and food, all aesthetically arranged in honor of the deceased. Some Mexicans claim that the souls of the departed watch over their living relatives during these few days. Negligent family members await punishment, whether on earth or in the afterlife. This belief is invoked throughout Mexico to explain the substantial time, money, and energy invested in the two-day ceremony.

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