Tradition vs Modern Culture: Mexican Day of the Dead

“Culture is the art of living.” It is the way we conceive our world and how we manage our existence. It is a collective identity that contributes to the individual one, providing us with a sense of belonging.

Today, a custom that originated in the pre-Columbian era is changing. Little by little, traces of American culture have found their place in many traditions observed in Mexico’s larger cities. Of course, El día de Muertos is not the exception and Halloween has become more and more popular among younger generations.

And so, each year on November 2nd, children of all ages dressed like La Catrina and Freddy Kreuger can be found hand in hand. Up and down small streets decorated with papel picado or among the crowds of typical Mexican mercados, you can hear them repeating – ¿me da para mi calaverita? – hoping someone will drop a piece of candy or a coin or two into their jack-o-lantern bucket.

When asked, a few will tell you how they helped their parents and grandparents put up the traditional altar filled with Cempazuchitl flowers, calaveritas and pan de muerto, only to later remember how they finished just in time to catch that American horror movie that was on T.V. that night.

These changes do not go unnoticed and are the source of polemic discussions. Some dismiss them as natural results of modernity; others condemn them for destroying an important part of our heritage. However, many of our traditions were a result of this very evolution, Día de Muertos included.

Original celebrations related to the modern Day of the Dead were held during the 9th month of the Aztec calendar (August in the Gregorian calendar). During that time, several Prehispanic cultures from central and southern Mexico, as well as several in countries of Central America, carried out festivities honoring the lives of those departed.

After the Spanish colonization, Mesoamerican celebrations merged with “El día de todos los Santos”, a Catholic festivity which also served to commemorate the deceased. This gave way to the celebrations we witness today, in a similar way to what is happening with American culture.

Yet, the question remains: Will generations to come be proud of a new “fused” tradition or will they both co-exist as separate parts of modern culture? The answer is to be discovered.

If you enjoyed this article, we suggest reading: “Day of the dead” or Halloween?


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