Celebrate the departed with an ofrenda is a very old Mexican tradition that had passed from generation to generation. It goes back to approximately 1800 years B.C., when it was customary to bury the dead with offerings that include jewelry, crafts, food, beverages and some of their favorite personal items.
The tradition has evolved over the years, and every community in Mexico has adopted different features of the festival. That’s why you’ll find many variations of Día de los Muertos in colors, meanings and elements of the altars.
We have learned about the tradition from my Grandparents that grew up in Mexico City. We also adopted elements from Tabasco, Mexico, where we grew up.
I think our favorite part of the tradition is its complexity, and the opportunity to be creative when decorating the altar or ofrenda. We also love the fact that even when Day of the Dead sounds like a sad tradition, is celebrated in a joyful and colorful way! The reason is that in most Mesoamerican cultures death did not represent the end of life, but the beginning of a new way to exist.
The traditional colors of Dia de los Muertos are bright, vibrant and cheerful. This colorful palette is created with the use of multicolored papel picado and lots of marigolds around the streets and cemeteries of all the cities in Mexico.
Although the meaning of the colors for the ofrenda of Día de los Muertos may vary in each community, some of the most used and which characterize the tradition are:
It represents the power of light and life. It also evokes the sun, which in the Aztec tradition, it is believed to guided the souls of the dead. The traditional marigold flower is what adds this yellow color to the decorations.Marigold petals are also used to make pathways, to guide the dead to their ofrendas.
It represents the Christian mourning. When the Spaniards arrived in America in the sixteenth century, they brought similar celebrations to Dia de los Muertos, where the dead were remembered on All Saints’ Day. When they brought Christianity to Mexico, a syncretism that mixed European and pre-Hispanic traditions was born, creating the current Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos tradition and adding the purple color in the decorations symbolizing the Christian mourning.
It refers to the pre hispanic religion and the Tlillan, the place of blackness, and Mictlan, the place of the dead.
It means light, innocence and purity. It is also used as a representation of the sky.