Bright colored skulls, woman faces, skeletons wearing suits. Tattoos, t-shirts, prints, flashes – you can see this in everything related to tattoos and tattoo culture. All these images and symbols originates from the ancient ritual called Dia de los muertos – Day of the dead. Colors, dancing, costumes and a lot of symbols are important part of this ritual. Below is a part of my research and I hope that this will inspire you just a bit to learn more about that interesting and so spiritual tradition that can find place in everyone’s heart.
Dia de los muertos is a Mexican holiday with tradition dating more than 3000 years back. Its origins are in ancient Aztec ritual of honoring the dead with festivals and celebrations. Modern version is carrying the legacy of these old rituals mixed with Christianity that was brought by Spanish conquistadors. Widely celebrated on November 1st and 2nd in Latin America, US and in some parts of Europe but nowhere to the extend as it is in Mexico where it is a public holiday.
As the name suggests at the Day of the dead people are it is a celebration in which the living and the dead are joined if even for a short while. Departed are awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones for a brief time and this is in a way triumph over dead therefore it becomes celebration of life.
Alongside the public aspect there is a private celebration for every family. Of the two days November 1st is a day to remember departed children, los angelitos, where November 2nd is more focused on the departed adults. As it is believed that the departed will be insulted by mourning or sadness, Day of the dead is celebrated with food, drinks, dancing and all other activities that dead enjoyed while they were alive.
Calacas and Calaveras (skeletons and skulls) are the most recognizable Day of the Dead symbols. In most part of Latin America’s and chicano culture skulls and skeletons are representation of what is within humans and therefore it is a symbol of the inner you, the soul. Skulls are painted in bright colors, skeletons are wearing fancy bright colored clothes with instruments and usually are in dancing. The idea behind this is to remind you that these people are no longer with us in flesh but their spirits still lives among us.
Yellow is very important part of the celebration. Yellow as color and Marigolds are symbol of dead according to Aztec mythology. Marigolds are often referred as “the flower of dead” and its petals is used to guide the souls of the dead to the altars and homes where they are been prayed for.
Other colors also has deep meaning and are important part of the ritual. Pink is for joy and celebration, red – the blood of life and a symbol of sacrifice, purple or indigo represents grief and mourning, the pain of loss and suffering, white is the hope, promise and purity of spirit and orange represents the brilliance of the sun and the new day.
Platters of food and Pan de Muerto set out for the dead, wine or other spirits at the place setting where the deceased may have once eaten his or her meals
Salt and water are also essential; they are set to quench the thirst of the souls, tired from their long trip. Water also purifies and cleanses.
Dogs are believed to lead souls to their final resting place and candles, representing fire are a beacon to guide them back to the land of living.
This is just scratches the surface of what is a colorful celebration of people that are no longer with us. If you are interested you will find a lot of materials on the subject and my goal is to inspire you to find out a bit more from what is behind the beautiful tattoos of colored skulls and dancing skeletons that majority of the people consider scary and it is just a way to honor our beloved departed.
In the second part of the article, I will tell you more about the tattoos related to the day of the dead and their meaning.