Faith, culture fused in a day to remember deceased loved ones

By Amy Wise Taylor

S.C. (CNS) — When Jennifer Bermejo was growing up in Aguascalientes, Mexico,
her family celebrated Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, every year.

assistant for Hispanic ministry at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton,
recalls it as a fusion of culture and religion, noting that her family and
neighbors always attended Mass to pray for their deceased loved ones.

everyone joined together for La Catrina parades and gathered in cemeteries,
where they continued to offer prayers but also reminisced and paid tribute to
their family through song, skits, and favorite foods and drink.

de los Muertos begins at midnight Oct. 31, when it is said that the gates of
heaven open and the spirits of the little children (“angelitos”) are allowed to
reunite with their families for 24 hours. This is Dia de los Inocentes, the Day
of the Innocents, and coincides with All Saints’ Day.

following day, Nov. 2, is the actual Day of the Dead. It also is All Souls’ Day.

said that for her family, the tradition of Dia de los Muertos fell away when they
moved to Bluffton in 2005, because they have no cemetery or relatives to visit

year, however, she was bringing some of those cultural aspects to St. Gregory
Oct. 31, having the children dress as their favorite saints and participate in
Day of the Dead traditions such as painting sugar skulls in bright colors.

showing them that the day is about praying for family members who have passed
away and remembering them,” Bermejo told The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of
the Diocese of Charleston.

purpose of both Dia de los Inocentes and Dia de los Muertos is to remember the
dead and pray for their souls in purgatory, to help them atone for their sins
and move into the presence of Christ.

de los Muertos evolved in Mexico from the rituals of Aztecs and Mayans. When
the Spanish arrived, indigenous beliefs and Catholic religious practices
merged, combining for a mix of somber celebration in homes and churches, and
more lively festivities in secular spaces.

said the heart of each day centers on prayer, but there are cultural traditions
unique to Dia de los Muertos.

of the most important aspects in Mexico is the creation of altars in homes in
honor of deceased family members. The displays range from one to seven levels;
from simple to extravagant. They are decorated with a cross, candles, and
tissue paper cutouts, and filled with objects meant to draw the spirit of the
loved one, such as photos, personal objects, and favorite foods.

orange flowers, “cempasuchil,” are placed all around the altars and in the
cemeteries. A type of marigold, the blossoms are said to guide the spirits with
their vibrant colors and scent.

custom are the sugar skulls. They have become so popular that they have evolved
into an art form for tattoo artists. People have images of their loved ones
inked in elaborate sugar skull designs, in honor of the deceased and in hopes
it will bring their blessings.

de Muerto, or Bread of the Dead, also is placed at altars and cemeteries.
Traditional loaves have a crust shaped into crossed bones, but Bermejo said her
family and others also shape the crust into a cross to represent Christ.

aspect that has spread far beyond Mexico is La Calavera Catrina, first created between
1910 and 1913. Bermejo said the artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, is from her
hometown and the Catrina parade is a huge affair that draws artists and
participants from all over.

walk in parades to the cemetery, where they often spend the day and night.
Prior to the celebration, people spend time cleaning, repairing and decorating
the grave site. While there is prayer and reciting the rosary, time at the
grave also celebrates the living memory of the deceased, and gatherings become
family picnics, with food, drink, music, flowers and even fireworks.

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is a reporter at The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of

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