The Day of the Dead Festival is coming to Belfast on October 6th! The event will be held in Mandela Hall, Belfast and starts at 10pm. You can expect a giant skull procession around the venue, dance troupe performances, professional skull face painting and live music!
You can find out more about the event via their Facebook page @festivalofthedeaduk. This article will explore a little bit about the history of the Day of the Dead, the tradition for sugar skulls and the meaning and significance of the festival with some fun facts along the way!
History of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)
The Day of the Dead has indigenous origins from the Aztec festival for Mictecacihuatl, The Lady of The Dead, and Catholic origins from the Spanish conquistadors’ All Saints and All Souls Day. It is a tradition that is over 3,000 years old! The original Aztec holiday was a month long affair, however after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the holiday became intertwined with the Catholic holidays All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd).
Although it may seem macabre to celebrate death; it is a colourful and festive, tradition in Mexico to honour and reminisce about departed loved ones. The core meaning of the festival is to celebrate the lives of the deceased as it is believed that they would be insulted by mourning or sadness! Death is recognised as a natural part of the human experience and on this one special time of the year, the dead are also part of the community.
It is believed that at midnight on October 31st the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. Then on November 2nd, the spirits of deceased adults also arrive to enjoy the festivities that have been prepared for them! In the afternoon of November 2nd, families will traditionally visit the cemeteries to clean their loved ones graves and reminisce about the departed with food, drink and music.
Beautiful altars are prepared in each home for the festival, decorated with candles, flowers, traditional sugar skulls (more on that below) and offerings of food and drink for their weary spirit travelers. Every altar is highly personalised for each deceased loved one and will include their favourite food, drink and tokens of their celebrated lives.
The Sugar Skull Tradition
Skull decorations are EVERYWHERE during the Day of the Dead festival; but did you know that the term 'sugar skull' is a literal reference? Sugar skulls were originally made from granulated white sugar, pressed and allowed to set in special clay skull molds. Sugar skulls traditionally represent a departed soul with the name of the person written on the forehead and decorated with colourful icing, bits of tin and glass and various adornments personal to the deceased person. The skulls are then placed on the family altar to honour their return.
The meaning of the festival is poignant - the tradition is to not be scared of death, but rather to smile at it! It's a celebration of past ancestors as they were on this earth; and a beautiful way for their stories to be passed on to future generations.