Death. The thought that takes most of us to the end of our life. The end of it all. If you believe in an afterlife, it is the end of this phase of your existence. Mostly, it is a sad and dreaded, though unavoidable, event.
For many, this is not the case, as we observe the reason and traditions around Día de Los Muertos, a two-day sacred holiday.
Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has its roots in Aztec worship and the ancient belief that when a soul departs from this world, they have an extensive journey to the next realm. Aztecs and other Nahua people believed it was disrespectful to see death as a loss and mourn it. Instead, they saw death as a natural phase of the continuum of life.
✓ Two Days for the Dead
Although the celebration originated in Mexico and they still celebrate it there today, many people observe Día de Los Muertos throughout Latin America and other parts of the world. They celebrate the holiday on the first and second days of November. Día de Los Angelitos, the Day of little angels, is in remembrance of children who died and precedes the official Day of the Dead.
Should you find yourself in Mexico on 1 and 2 November, you will have the privilege of encountering a colourful, shrine-filled world as Mexicans remember the lives of their deceased loved ones. The centrepiece of the celebration is Ofrendas and is an altar created in honour of the deceased.
They adorn towns and graves with marigolds, the Mexican flower of death. Synonymous with the celebration are colourful Calacas and Calaveras – skeletons and skulls – and families fill their homes and towns with this symbol.
The small altars, Ofrendas, are very personal and families build these in their homes during the days preceding the holiday. The family also adorn the grave with marigold petals and other flowers and scatter a trail of petals from the altar to the grave.
✓ A Few of Their Favourite Things
Ofrendas do not represent a place of worship, it is an invitation. An invitation dressed in the dead’s favourite things from this world. It is a multi-level display crowned with a photo of the deceased person, as well as their favourite foods, drinks, sugar skulls, crosses, and a candle for each dead relative.
During Día de Los Muertos, family members take part in the deceased’s favourite activities, hoping they will return and share the experience. Should their spirit decide to return, food and drinks await them at their grave as sustenance after the treacherous journey.
✓ Sugar Bread for The Dead
If you are wondering what the dead might want to eat, this Mexican tradition believes that we have a sweet tooth once we pass on. Candied sweets and pastries fill the altars, and Pan de Muerto is the quintessential snack for the dead. This is a sugar-glazed traditional Mexican bread in the shape of bones.
You will find colourful Calaveras in the shape of masks and candies sitting on gravesites, ofrendas, and painted murals. Those who celebrate Day of the Dead mostly dress up to resemble Calavera Catrina, and suitably wear hats, fancy clothing, and paint their faces.
They say the skull symbol and La Catrina originates from the Aztecs worshipping the goddess of death and satiric drawings from José Guadalupe Posada. During the 18th and 19th centuries, literary Calaveras were sarcastic, yet humorous poems often found on tombstones. These poems would make fun of the living. Posada was a political cartoonist, and he created a character inspired by literary Calavera, noting that we are all skeletons.
Catrina was born from a drawing inspired by Posada’s, as seen in Diego Rivera’s 1947 mural ‘Dream of Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park’. Dressed in her famous feather hat and given the name that means “the rich”, Catrina is a reminder that we must not live with pretence.
✓ The Lighter Side of Death
One might think that Day of the Dead is a sad day of mourning but, you will find it is a celebration of life. It is notable how Mexicans deal with death and how they view the afterlife. To them, it is not morbid at all, and although they mourn their loved ones, they prefer to incorporate humour into the proceedings.
They usually depict the iconic skeletons that feature during the festival in some humorous scenes, like drinking and dancing.
Mexicans also believe that children travel faster through the spirit realm. Therefore, their welcoming celebration happens first, as their spirits arrive before the adults.
It is believed that the dead come to visit their loved ones on this day. The marigold petals scattered from the altar to the gravesite is to ensure the spirit does not get lost on its way back.
✓ Bizarre Rituals for the Dead
In another part of the world, there exists a tradition where families keep the corpse of the deceased in their homes. In Indonesia, Torajan people believe their funeral is the most important day of their life. So much so that they would take on crippling debt to host an elaborate funeral in honour of the dead family member.
While the remaining family saves toward a death celebration, the corpse remains with them. They visit the dead person daily and serve them three meals. Social gatherings happen with the dead relative and include children looking on to the embalmed corpse. This can continue for years until the funds are ready for the funeral.
These celebrations of death include the slaughter of hundreds of livestock and tau-tau, an expensive wood-carved statue. The remaining family members fork out tens of thousands of dollars to ensure that the celebrations do not put their family to shame. A year after the burial takes place, they exhume the body to dress it with new clothes and allow it to catch a bit of sun.
✓ Fiction, not Fact
Many people have the impression that Día de los Muertos is the Mexican version of Halloween. As you can see from the above details, this is not true. Halloween is about death and the Day of the Dead, ironically, is about life and celebrating it.
Another myth is that Mexicans take part in huge parades during this festival. The idea came from Spectre, the 2015 James Bond film, and is a dreamed-up scene. It was only in 2016 when the first veritable parade took place in Mexico City.
Enjoy different spin on celebrating life with three popular Día de Los Muertos themed slots.
✓ Day of Dead by Pragmatic Play
It seems the dead walking from altar to grave inspired Pragmatic Play. Day of Dead is a high variance video slot with 5 reels and 4 lines that can award up to 4,500x your stake. Fittingly set in a graveyard, they complete this online slot with La Catrina, Calaveras, and slot sounds with Mexican background music.
Reels: 5 x 4
Max Win: Bet x 4,500
The tombstone Wild turns into a walking Wild and triggers a respin as he leaves the slot grid to the left. The round finishes when he finds his way off the grid. 3 Scatters will trigger the Free Respin Feature and here you have indefinite respins that kick off with two walking Wilds. Once no more Wilds are on the reel, the Bonus Feature ends. This is a good choice for classic slot lovers who don't like surprises.
✓ The Mariachi 5 by Real Time Gaming
This colourful rendition of traditional Mexican sights pays tribute to Day of the Dead and has a band of Calaveras wearing sombreros. The Mariachi 5 is a 3D slot by Real Time Gaming with 243 pay ways. Set in a Mexican town with traditional buildings and a cobblestone road.
Reels: 5 x 3
Max Win: Bet x 6,000
Royals carved out of bone represent low paying symbols and a donkey pinata Scatter is the premium symbol which awards you 200x your stake for 5 of a kind. The Free Spins feature has Wild Multipliers and during the base game, you have a stacked Wild on reels 2 and 4. Choose one of the 5 Free Spin options when you land 3 pinatas and dance your way to 6,000x your stake.
✓ Grim Muerto by Play’nGo
Contrary to the title, this online slot from Play’nGo is anything but grim. The colourful design and friendly mariachi band members pay tribute to Mexico’s Día de Los Muertos. This video slot has beautifully rendered images and is absolutely in line with the Mexican tradition of celebrating life during the Day of the Dead.
Reels: 5 x 3
Max Win: Bet x 1,000
Strum your way to a fortune on the Mexican Guitar (vihuela) Wild, which brings you 10 free spins if you land 3. Mexican music will get you in the mood for this fiesta and stacked wilds during the Free Spins game can bring mucho wins. Highlighted reels, extra wilds and second chances make Grim Muerto slot as entertaining as they come.