17 Apr 2024
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) – when the dead meet the living
Community Culture Expat Traditions What's on: Stockholm

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) – when the dead meet the living

It’s almost like a trend now. We see references everywhere to the Mexican Day of the Dead; in Halloween costumes with skull face-paint better known in Mexico as ¨Catrinas¨, but also in Hollywood films like the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, 2015, where the opening sequence shows a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City.


Myself being a Mexican living in Sweden, it makes me very happy to see that Stockholm is on top of this trend and the celebration of the returning of the dead comes back to town bigger than ever. Etnografiska Museet has been hosting a yearly celebration for some time already and now also Medeltidsmuseet is also joining in with different activities. So you can also take part in the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead, when one invites the loved departed ones to a party with music, prayers and offerings.
The official Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that originates from the pre-Hispanic world, where death is not filled with a sense of fear but of hope. Death was seen as a new stage, another step in the excistence of a being but in a different dimension.

The celebration officially takes place on 1st and 2nd November in connection with the Celtic tradition of Samhain and the Catholic feasts of All Saints and All Souls’ Day. During these days Mexican families visit the cemeteries and clean the graves of their loved ones, to decorate them with “ofrendas” (offerings). Some families also arrange altars in their homes, which normally look like this:

Día de muertos - Day of the dead ¨Altar¨
Día de muertos – Day of the dead ¨Altar¨

Just as in the pre-Hispanic time, the Mexicans still have a huge respect for the dead, but we do not know fear in it, therefore, the memorial is a festive occasion. If one is lucky enough to visit a Mexican cemetery during the midnight of the 1st and 2nd of November one will encounter entire families sharing food and tequila, surrounded by the mariachis or other musicians playing music and singing for the departed.

The Mexican belief is that the dead relatives and friends return to Earth during these days to be at the party. Therefore, altars and offerings are so important. A real altar consists of fruits, candles, skulls, sugar, skeleton figurines and pictures of the deceased that you want to remember, one places also the food and the drinks the departed enjoyed the most while still alive, together with objects that belonged to them.

To get a taste of these colourful traditions in Stockholm you just have to go to the museum. Medeltidsmuseet in cooperation with the Embassy of Mexico in Sweden, will place an altar that will be shown from Saturday, November 5th 11:30 until November 10th. Find more info here.

Day of the Dead art by Gabriela Martinez
Day of the Dead art by Gabriela Martinez

The Mexican Society together with Etnografiska Museet organises a full celebration of the Day of the Dead on the 5th and 6th of November, with an exhibition, an altar, a craft market and traditional Mexican bread. There is also a dance performance, singing and music by the group Mexico Lindo and the mariachi Fiesta Mexico. Plus a Skeleton Workshop and more. Find more info here.

This year’s altar at Etnografiska will be dedicated to Alberto Aguilera Valadez, better known as the artist Juan Gabriel. He died in August 28, 2016 and is one of Latin America’s best-selling singer-songwriters.



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