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The Day of The Dead: Background information when reading Six Feet Over It

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Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo

Six Feet Over It

by Jennifer Longo
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  • First Published:
  • Aug 26, 2014
  • Paperback:
  • Jan 2016
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The Day of The Dead

This article relates to Six Feet Over It

Print Review

Leigh was born on November 1. The day following Halloween is known as All Saints Day. In Mexico, where Dario, her friend the gravedigger is from, it is also known as Dias de Los Muertos — The Day of the Dead. On Leah's fifteenth birthday, and the first day they meet, Dario gives her a tiny clay skeleton, La Catrina, the patron saint of death. This iconic figure is thought to represent the willingness to laugh at death as well as the fact that regardless of social status or power, we all are eventually made equal.

Although specific customs may vary from town to town in Mexico, generally Dias de Los Muertos (which usually also includes the morning hours of November 2) is a celebration in order to remember the dead in a joyful manner. The actual festivities can span an entire week. Families gather and travel to cemeteries to visit and honor the graves of loved ones. The gravesites are cleaned and then decorated extravagantly. Sitting amongst the headstones, families will picnic while stories of the deceased are shared. The emphasis is on celebrating life rather than grieving over loss. The focus on joy stems from the belief that loved ones are still alive, but in another form—and that death is simply a temporary separation.

Decorated Sugar Skulls The customs of this holiday are a blend of Aztec tradition and Catholic beliefs. The Aztec people believed in a cyclical nature of life. Once a year the Aztec honored the death of their ancestors in the month-long Mictecacihuatl ceremony named after the Queen of the Underworld or Lady of the Dead. With the arrival of the Spanish, and as Catholicism spread throughout the country, the tradition was moved from July/August, and shortened, to coincide with All Saints Day, which is celebrated by many Catholics around the world, including in Mexico.

Today, in homage to its origin, skulls and skeletons are often depicted in decorations. Beautifully designed sugar skulls, called calaveras de azúcar, are commonly made for the occasion. Molds are used to shape them, but the ingredients are simple: sugar, water, and meringue powder. Once the skulls have been formed and dried, they can be decorated with a thick frosting made of the same ingredients in a more malleable ratio. Another common food for this holiday is pan de muerto, bread of the dead — a sweetened bread shaped into a bun often decorated with dough in the shape of finger bones, which is eaten along with favorite foods of the deceased.

Often altars called ofrendas are erected to honor the recent dead and decorated with things the departed loved. Ofrendas are public art in Mexico and grace many a shop and museum window with political and satirical themes.

Picture of sugar skulls from Mexicansugarskull.com

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Sarah Tomp

This "beyond the book article" relates to Six Feet Over It. It originally ran in October 2014 and has been updated for the January 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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