Church Planting among the Nahuatl

What is so special about November 2nd?

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Yes, November 2nd is Pete’s birthday…thank you to those of you who sent cards and messages. I’m planning on posting a few pictures from the birthday festivities in a different post…soon to come. But the real question is, why does everyone have off of work, why are some stores are closed, and why does business slow on November 2nd here in Mexico? Because it is El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).

This day is a perfect example of the completely complex heritage of Mexico and the complicated  mixture of beliefs of the native Mexicans like the Aztecs and Mayas, and the Spanish who first arrived in the early 1500’s. (If you are interested in reading more about where this celebration stems from here is an article that gives a good quick overview: http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1427-los-dias-de-los-muertos-the-days-of-the-dead )

El Dia de Los Muertos, in short, is a day set aside for the Mexican people to remember and honor their deceased loved ones and visit and clean their graves. In some parts of Mexico, predominantly in southern states like Oaxaca, it is also believed that the dead return to visit and commune with their still living relatives during this time. The Day of the Dead has been celebrated throughout Mexican history and the Mexican today still views death as a transition of life, a normal stage in the circle of life on earth, a natural progression, not an ending.  Renowned Mexican writer Octavio Paz commented about his people’s relationship with death saying, “The Mexican is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, and celebrates it. It is one of his favorite playthings and his most steadfast love.”

Today the ways of celebrating El Dia de Los Muertos have changed, and are different in different parts of Mexico. Here in Chihuahua it is traditional for families to go together to the panteones (cemeteries) where their loved ones are buried. They carry with them brooms, mops, and buckets and usually a bright array of freshly purchased flowers. They are go to clean the grave site, since most cemeteries do not clean the actual grave sites, and place flowers as an offering and remembrance of their deceased.

The entrance to the cemetery we visited, Cementerio de Dolores

This was a pool where people could fill their buckets to clean the graves

Some of the graves were underground, and had stairs going down to the actual grave.

A family cleaning the grave of a loved one

Some families, will bring comida (food) and drinks to the gravesite. Usually it is a dish that was a favorite of the deceased, like tamales or sopas, stemming from the belief in some areas that the soul of the deceased will return and eat the meal left for them.  In some parts of Mexico, a family will even eat together there at the grave, believing the deceased are there with them, and that they are sharing the meal with the deceased.

Beer left on a grave for the deceased to drink

Not only do they honor loved ones, but these two women and many others were praying at the gravestone of a Catholic priest, who many believe is a saint. Prayers are said to him, and many flowers and gifts left in exchange for favors they believe he does for them.

The decorated grave of the priest

It is also believed that the spirit of your dead loved one comes to visit you on Dia de los Muertos. To prepare, many families will build an altar in their home honoring the deceased with their picture, surrounded by candles, flowers, things that had significance to that person, and often including food or drink that they may have liked. The school age children here in Mexico often build altars to famous Mexicans in their classrooms in preparation for Dia de Los Muertos, and there are contests held for the most creative and beautiful altars.

This is an example of one of the altars made in remembrance of the dead. This specific altar is dedicated to Pancho Villa. Each level, and each element has a specific purpose and symbolism, and are intended to both have special significance and help the deceased person in the afterlife.

A close up of some more the items on the altar, which include candles, pan de muertos ("bread of the dead" - a sweet bread made especially for Day of the Dead), tequila, cigarettes, and calaveritas - "little skulls" that are made of sugar.

Not only is Dia de Los Muertos a time for visiting the cemeteries, but there are also fairs, parades, and vendors selling their goods all over the city. Right outside of the cemetery that we visited was the (The Fair of the Bone). The feria was filled with vendors selling special candied skulls, dulces or sweets made especially for Dia de Los Muertos, pan de muerto, fresh sugar cane (a Day of the Dead specialty), tacos, tamales, enchiladas, and of course all kinds of Mexican pottery, jewelry, and other wares.

Flowers for sale

A close-up of the calaveritas, or candy skulls. According to some of our friends, actual skulls were dug up and placed on the graves in times past. However, that is no longer legal, which is why the sugar skulls are used.

A crowd gathered as a vendor demonstrated a magic liquid that we was selling. He said that it had magical powers and could do a number of different things for you - make someone fall in love with you, make someone deathly ill, or help you obtain more money - all depending on the way you prayed or what you asked for it to do.

Our friend Sergio purchasing some sugar cane pieces

Sugar cane...interesting...

Mole tamale

Our thoughts on the day: As we walked through the cemetery with our friend Sergio observing all the families cleaning, praying, and honoring their dead…it was sad. So much of the history of this day is stemmed from beliefs the people have believed for years and passed down through generations, beliefs that worship and honor death, and make it a large part of their culture. While Chihuahua City is heavily influenced by other cultures and the celebration and traditions are not as strong here as they are in southern Mexico, there is still a darkness that surrounds Dia de Los Muertos and those participating in the rituals of it. While we went to experience it ourselves as a culture learning event, I think we learned even more about the urgency of the task at hand here in Mexico and throughout the world. The urgency of the task of spreading the truth of hope in Christ, that there is life after death, a glorious life in the presence of our Creator God. How great is the urgency, and how fleeting is life, and how many precious souls there are without a Savior. We are reminded of the great harvest before us here in Mexico, the work that we have been compelled to do. ” He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. ”        Luke 10:2-3 Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for supporting us, because of your obedience to the Lord and by His grace we have come to work in this harvest field of Mexico, because we know that there is hope. Pray as we spend time in the culture that the Lord would guide us, and that we would be bold to share His life with others and if we don’t know the words that we would walk His life before them. Pray that the Mexican people living in darkness would begin to see a great light, hope for the future, and hope of life – not death – passed down for generations to come.


Author: Liesl Hypki

We are a young couple living in remote Mexico to reach the Nahuatl people for Christ.

One thought on “What is so special about November 2nd?

  1. Glad your hubby is doing better, Liesl! WOW! Interesting about the Day of the Dead…you are right….SO sad!!! The photos are great! Thanks for sharing!

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