This past week was very important for all Mexicans, especially for those in communities away from big cities who still preserve traditions and habits inherited from their pre-Hispanic ancestors.
The Día de Muertos celebration is really relevant for El Carrizal and neighboring communities, since it combines elements from indigenous as well as European customs. This festivity invites both living and dead relatives to celebrate life and death, to value our path here through this earth to the land of the Dead. The conceptualization of this idea is embodied in the Altares de Muertos (Altars for the Dead), which mix Catholic and indigenous beliefs.
During these days, altars are built in honor of the dead. They are composed of flowers, food, candles, and other elements. The conventional altar has nine steps, which in the pre-Hispanic tradition represented the nine stages that the departed had to descend in order to arrive in the domains of Mictlantecuhtli (God of Death). Nowadays, people also place an image of a saint, Catholic Virgin, or Jesus Christ on the upper step. On the middle steps, they position food and drinks that the deceased used to enjoy. On the lowest level, a path of flowers is placed from the house to the street; this path indicates the course the deceased needs to follow in order to reach his or her living relatives.
Our job at the community consisted in evaluating altars at the contests held at local schools. These activities are aimed to teach students the value of their own ancestral traditions and avoid the replacement of these celebrations with foreign customs, such as Halloween.