Celebrating life on the Day of the Dead: diversity and tradition at Techint
On November 2, the whole of Mexico takes on an orange cast, as elaborate shrines, skulls and confetti transform streets and homes. Learn about this very special tradition from three employees working in the country.
The animated film Coco, by now a Pixar classic, tells the story of Miguel, a boy who dreams of being an accomplished musician and who travels to the Land of the Dead, meeting the souls of the deceased who come to visit each November 2 during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico.
When Brazilian-born Vilson Rigon found out that he was going to be moving to Mexico in 2018, one of the first recommendations he received was to see the film with his children. Vilson had developed his career at Techint E&C throughout Latin America, and was now moving to the country to become Director of Operations for the Northern Area.
“Somebody recommended the film to us so we could get an idea of what we would see on the Day of the Dead. It was really very emotional to be able to honor the memory of those who passed away like this,” he recalls.
The celebration dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when the inhabitants of what is now Mexico worshiped the deceased, performing various rituals to accompany them on their way to the underworld. They made offerings to the dead, including all kinds of objects, many of which they had used during their lives and others that could be useful during the ‘afterlife’, such as musical instruments, food, and flower arrangements, for instance.
Although it may look like a sad and even macabre tradition when seen from the outside, the reality is that the Day of the Dead is a colorful and joyful celebration. In fact, in 2008, UNESCO put it on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and today the rituals and ceremonies honoring the deceased have reached all corners of the globe.
“In Brazil, remembering our loved ones who passed away is something sad and gray. In Mexico it's a celebration because the idea is that they come to visit us as we pay homage to them at these shrines and get together as a family to remember them,” adds Vilson.
A way of honoring life
In many cities of Mexico, from the evening of October 31, families gather in cemeteries or make shrines at home to pay homage to their loved ones who have passed away. As commanded by popular belief, they prepare a threshold for the dead to return and visit the land of the living, which lasts until November 2. This is why they say that, more than a celebration of death, it’s a tribute to life.
Hannia Berman is 24 years old and an analyst at PyCP. She was born in the city of Villahermosa, in Tabasco, Mexico. As a child, she remembers getting together with her family at her grandparents' house, where they built a very large shrine. On it, they put photos of their deceased loved ones, dishes of the foods they liked and some of the things that characterized them in life, such as a cigarette packet, or a bottle of their favorite tipple.
Rodrigo Perea, a Buyer for Supplies, is 28 years old and has similar memories. “As a child, at my parents' house, we used to celebrate this date by making offerings, we used to buy certain things, made flower arrangements and confetti, and we all took turns placing the decorations on the shrine.”
"For me, it’s a very important day because we commemorate those people who once shared their lives with us and who are now gone, with love and respect," explains Hannia, adding: "Now the celebrations are a little more intimate as everyone does them at home, but they are still every bit as significant as before."
Rodrigo underscores this: "I consider this celebration as a way of being with my family and remembering loved ones who have passed away."
"In my family, we always celebrate this day to remember those who are gone, it’s a special moment when we share hot chocolate with pan de muerto (bread made with milk, eggs, butter, sugar and anise), tamales and atole,” Hannia says.
An ancient and diverse tradition
The date on which the Day of the Dead is celebrated is no random one. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in America, their customs and rituals gradually blended in with local traditions: All Saints' Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2 are Christian holidays on the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, feast days that became intertwined with local celebrations for the Mexican Day of the Dead.
In fact, today, the festivities are performed with variations in different states. Hannia explains what happens in Tabasco: “Usually in schools, there are shrine-making competitions, which is really pretty because they are large very traditional structures. In people’s houses, they make shrines and put offerings on them, then they wait until a special time (usually noon) to say a prayer to the deceased.”
"In the Huasteca region in my home state of Hidalgo, the celebration of the Day of the Dead is known as Xantolo and is a fascinating tradition, full of mysticism and culture," explains Rodrigo.
Today, thousands of Mexicans throughout the world continue to place photos and souvenirs on shrines in their homes with affection and emotion, keeping alive a tradition around the globe.