In Mexico we have a tradition that is renowned worldwide: the cult of the afterlife. It is celebrated on November 2nd and it is called the Day of the Dead. The 1st is dedicated to children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2nd.
In these days people go to cemeteries to pray or communicate with the souls of the departed, many people arrive at the cemetery on the night of the 1st and stay there all the way through the 2nd. As part of the ritual, people build private altars that are dedicated to their special loved ones. These altars, called ofrendas, are one of the most wonderful things of this tradition. They are usually built with three levels, made by different types of tables and using the floor as the lowest level. In these tables they put different elements like: water, salt, cempasuchiltl flower, the food the dead liked to eat and drink when they were alive, candles, incense, copal, bread of the death (pan de muerto), etc. The ofrenda is a way to welcome to the deceased.
This tradition was started by prehispanic cultures like the Olmec, Purepechas and Aztecs. Now a days it is a mixed cult, since we have the indigenous and the Spanish mix. This mix is evident when you see that some altars have both a xoloescuincle (Mexican dog who in the prehispanic culture accompany the dead person through his way to the death) and a catholic virgin. It is very interesting to go outside the city and make a trip to visit towns that celebrate this Day. One of the best places to visit is Patzcuaro or Janitizio in Michoacán, and Mixquic a town nearby Mexico City. In these places, the Day of the Dead is still celebrated in a very traditional manner.
November 1st and 2nd and the cult of the afterlife are so important in Mexico that many artisans have incorporated it in their handcrafts. In many cases, the artisans decorate the pieces with motifs from the afterlife, such as calacas, calaveras and catrinas (stylized, colorful skulls and skeletons). For example, in Metepec, a town where they make Trees of Life, some artisans have come up with a variation on the theme and create allegories of death called Trees of the After Life (Árbol de la Muerte). In Patzcuaro, they are famous for the catrinas and calaveras made of different materials, like clay, paper or wood.
If you ever have a chance to come and visit Mexico don’t hesitated to come in the first days of November you will never forget it.