In many cultures death is a taboo subject a word that evokes sorrow and loss. In Mexico this is not the case as every year from October 31st – November 2nd the people turn death on its head and celebrate Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.
November 1st All Saints Day remembers deceased children (known as little angels), November 2nd All Souls Day remembers the departed adults.
To an outsider celebrations may be seen as macabre, but in Mexico death is considered to be a part of life. It is a festive and thoughtful time, families reunite at homes and graves to share memories of loved ones and mock the spectre of death with costume, dance and song.
The origins can be traced back to Catholic pageantry and Aztec traditions. Though celebrations vary from region to region the most traditional take place in the town of Patzcuaro home of the Purepecha tribe, a colonial city in the state of Michoacan, in the western central highlands and at Island of Jatizio which lies in the middle of Lake Patzcuaro.
Cemeteries become a focal point for the people; they are a hive of activity as families tend to the gravesites.
Tombs are scrubbed, the women folk sweep away the detritus whilst the men and boys paint the vivid stone crossed mausoleum before adorning the tombs with bright orange marigolds.
There are also displays of skeleton crafts and toys created to decorate homes and graves which depict people from all walks of life, policemen, teachers, barbers and musicians.
Colourful market stalls line the squares and side streets of the town selling pan de muerto, (bread of the dead), and confectionery.
The old and young gather to share the bittersweet pleasure of exchanging sugar and chocolate skulls baring the names of the departed.
Family altars are lovingly assembled, each soul represented by a candle and sometimes a photograph of the deceased.
An offering of a favourite drink or snack will be left for each visiting spirit.
And finally the peaceful vigil kept through the night as friends and families crowd the cemeteries to await the arrival of their loved ones.
The women pray and men chant through the chilly night air pungent with incense, bathed by candle light.
Each year the spirits return to eat and drink with the living.
The photographs illustrate how the Mexican people celebrate their rites of communion between the living and the dead, with beauty, caring and humour as the two are intricately entwined.
They show how family rituals are passed down through the generations and demonstrate how symbols which would seem unsettling at another time and place blend peacefully with the landscape during the festivities of Day of the Dead.
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