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The Day of the Dead

Every year, on the 1st and 2nd of November, cemeteries, streets and homes are taken over by a celebration of the dead and a faith in their continued presence among the living. The Day of the Dead is a colourful, mystical and nostalgic festival in which people gather to remember the spiritual journey of friends, family members or famous personalities who have traveled to and from the world of the living. A popular Mexican legend holds that the souls of the dead return to visit their living family members at nightfall on the 1st of November, a pre-Columbian belief that became the founding myth for the Day of the Dead festival. Mexico City harbours some of the country’s most vibrant and inventive designs with displays such as San Andrés Mixquic’s church graveyard, best known for its colorful and ornate celebration lasting from the 31st of October to 2nd of November, and Candelaria’s public collaborations on the design and organization of public spaces. Recently, Mexico City hosted its largest parade commemorating the dead in the hopes of reviving some of the most important avenues of the city and cementing the festival as a vital component of Mexico City culture.

Erecting “ofrendas”—a double meaning for “altar” and “offering—in one’s home is an important part of the spirit-calling ritual. On these altars, many objects of personal significance are placed as gifts to the deceased loved ones, such as paths of orange and red flower petals, food (typically pan de muerto), drinks, and various items related to pleasure (cigarettes, toys, etc.). The Ofrendas are decorated with candles, incense, and colorful sheets of papel picado (pecked paper). Papel picado is a Mexican folk art that is used for narrative storytelling, depicting geometrical patterns that represent native flora, animals, and “catrinas” (elegant, well-dressed, and usually feminine skeletons). Every year people improvise and collaborate in the making of these altars as their scales and location range from living rooms to outdoor public parks. An example of outdoor collaborative Ofrenda design can be seen at the main square of the National University (UNAM) where students from different schools gather to create a “Mega-Ofrenda” in commemoration of famous Mexicans like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Project name The Day of the Dead
Period Colonial
Contributor N/A
Location Mexico City