General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Nov 2017/7 Movement
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Day of the Dead animation
Day of the Dead animation
Highly watchable short video from students of Ringling College of Art and Design (USA)
Enjoy...!
San Miguel Canoa, Mexico

Ideas for a DAY OF THE DEAD story...

Though we already have illustrated features on Mexico’s biggest festival, the Day(s) of the Dead - follow links below - we’ve been meaning for ages to prepare background resources on the festival; at last (autumn 2010) this process is under way. We start with a simple folk tale that comes from that part of Mexico (well known to our team) where the highest proportion in the country of the local (Nahua) population still speak the Aztec language of Náhuatl: the towns of San Miguel Canoa and San Isidro Buensuceso, Tlaxcala, near the city of Puebla and the volcano of La Malinche...

Mexicolore Director Ian (3rd from right) with SEMYCA coordinator Pablo Rogelio (2nd from left) with group of local students
Mexicolore Director Ian (3rd from right) with SEMYCA coordinator Pablo Rogelio (2nd from left) with group of local students (Click on image to enlarge)

The story we publish here comes from the anthology Cuentos Náhuatl de la Malintzin, compiled by Pablo Rogelio Navarrete Gómez, coordinator of SEMYCA, a local Náhuatl teaching/research project based in San Miguel, and published in 2009. The original story in Náhuatl - In tlacatzintli tlen amo oquinequia tlamanaz - was translated by Pablo Rogelio into Spanish - El señor que no quería poner ofrenda - and we offer our own English translation here, with SEMYCA’s permission. The entire anthology is available online in Náhuatl and Spanish via the link to SEMYCA’s website, below. The accompanying images are generic photos of the Day of the Dead from different parts of Mexico.

The local school, San Isidro Buensuceso, Tlaxcala
The local school, San Isidro Buensuceso, Tlaxcala (Click on image to enlarge)

Professor Davíd Carrasco, in Daily Life of the Aztecs identifies three key elements to the Day of the Dead in Mexico today, all of which can be linked to ancient practices: the preparations for the ceremonies, the symbolism of the centre (the family altar) and ‘the ceremonial feast of the dead and spiritual union with the dead at the home and cemetery, which give renewal.’ The importance of the preparations can’t be over-stressed, and here lies the essence of the following story. In Carrasco’s words:-
What is outstanding in all cases (from Aztec times to the present) is the belief that what happens during one’s life here on this earth is dependent, in part, on treating the dead well. People believe that if the dead are not worshipped, nurtured, and remembered in the proper manner, their own economic security, family stability, and health will be in jeopardy. Therefore, careful and generous preparations are carried out...

Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore
Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

“The Man Who Didn’t Believe in his Family Altar”

Here in our town every November we have a festival in memory of the souls of family members who’ve died. Our ancestors believed that these souls return on the night of the festival to their homes here on earth and that they enjoy all the cooked dishes, dried fish, fruits, flowers and other goodies left out for them on the family altar.

Illustration by Agustín Pérez Velázquez
Illustration by Agustín Pérez Velázquez (Click on image to enlarge)

A man lived in our town once who simply didn’t believe that the souls of relatives returned and who refused to prepare a family altar. Every time the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival came around he would say “What’s the point of making an altar? It isn’t true that the dead return.” His wife would reply “I’m going to offer something, even if it’s just a tortilla!” The man replied simply “You do what you want. I’m not staying here at home, I’m off to the woods to gather firewood. I don’t want to have anything to do with this so-called ‘festival’.”

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

Off the man went to the woods. While looking for firewood, he climbed up a very tall pine tree. Suddenly he lost his footing, breaking the branch he was on, slipped, fell, knocked his head in the fall and fainted. When he came to, he found himself hanging in the middle of the tree. He remained there all that day and the following night, unable to free himself.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

The next day he heard a large crowd passing by and thought “I’ll shout to ask them for help”. As hard as he looked, he couldn’t see anybody. He could hear voices yet nobody appeared. A second time the same thing happened. He was sure there were people passing nearby who would help him: he had hurt his head, was weak and couldn’t release himself from the branches.

Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore
Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

He began to despair: “Now how am I going to get back home? Who can I call out to?” Once more he heard the voices of a crowd of people talking and coming close. He wondered “Who are these people?” This time he suddenly caught a glimpse of them in the distance, all the souls of the dead, women and men, each bearing a cloth full of fruits, all of them merrily chatting, laughing and eating as they went.

Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore
Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

As he looked to the back of the crowd he could make out his own parents some way behind, stopping to pick up the leftovers dropped by the crowd. They had nothing of their own. While the others carried candles, fruits and smiles on their faces, his parents looked sad as they stooped to recover the bits others had dropped.

Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore
Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

After the procession had disappeared, dawn began to break. A young man passed close by, on his way to gather pine tinder for the family steam bath. He spotted the man stuck up the tree and helped him down. On reaching the ground the man declared “Now I believe. The souls of the dead do return. It’s true. They come to eat at the festival.”

Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore
Photo by Tito Zavala/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

The following year he prepared a family altar loaded with fruit and went off once more to the woods to watch the procession of souls. Once again he saw a large crowd laughing, talking and eating their fruit. This time, however, he could make out his parents happily eating among the others, bearing all the goodies he and his family had left for them on the altar. This time they weren’t at the back feeding on the leftover scraps.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore (Click on image to enlarge)

Now the man goes around declaring that the souls of dead relatives do come back to earth for their festival. They come to enjoy the dishes their families prepare for them and they take them off to their own world, celebrating as they go...

Our main feature on the Day of the Dead

Ideas for Day of the Dead craft activities

The website of SEMYCA, based in San Miguel Canoa
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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Thanks, Scott; hopefully we will make a return trip there before long and can meet up with all you guys together...