BLENDING ANCIENT CULTURES WITH THE CHURCH
This holiday is a perfect example of the complex heritage of the Mexican people. The beliefs of today's Mexican are based on the complicated blended cultures of his ancestors, the Aztec and Maya and Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism. The origins of the Days of the Dead reach into the ancient history of Europe and Mexico. In the eighth century, the church decreed November 1 as All Saints Day. Setting aside the day to honor the martyrs and saints was an attempt to replace the 2000-year tradition of the Celts and their Druid priests who combined harvest festivals and celebrated the new year on November 1.
The Celtic dead were believed to have access to earth on Samhain, October 31st, when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead relaxed. The Celts danced around huge bonfires, wearing animal heads and hides to confuse the spirits and burned crops and animals as offerings to the returning dead.
Around the end of the first millennium, the church reinforced its attempt to cover the Celtic celebration by designating November 2 as All Souls' Day to honor the dead. All Souls' Day was celebrated with parades, big bonfires and the people dressed as saints, angels and devils.
In the language of the day, All Saints Day and All Souls' Day were known as All-hallowsmas, and October 31 was "All Hallowed's Eve" or Hallow'e'en.
When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico they encountered two-month celebrations honoring death, the fall harvest and the new year. For more than 500 years, the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead) presided over Aztec harvest rituals using fires and incense, costumes of animal skins, images of their dead and offerings of ceramics, personal goods, flowers and foods, drink and flowers.
While the church attempted to transform the joyous celebration to a suitably
tragic image of death and a serious day of prayer focusing attention and
reflection on the saints and martyrs. The people of Mexico did not fully adopt
the early priests' ideas, and by keeping their familiar ceremonies, All Saint's
Day and All Soul's Day evolved into the celebrations that today honor the dead
with color, candles, joy.