The Mexican Day of the Dead is the result of a cultural blend. This festival has both Mesoamerican roots and origins in Catholicism, which the Spanish introduced in the 16th century.
In the Pre Columbian era, the Aztecs’ religious beliefs and practices were closely related to death as it was considered necessary for life. Human sacrifices, for example, were committed with the aim of preserving life, so that the sun god Huitzilopochtli could live and continue to light up the world. To pay homage to the dead, they held two festivals twenty days apart. The first, Miccaihuitontli, honoured deceased children, and the second, Hueymiccalhuitl, was devoted to adults. They depended on the farming calendar, in particular the cycle of maize cultivation (July-August). Both the living and the departed reunited to share the grand banquet marking the beginning of the harvest. The deceased were invited to leave their miserable underground homes to join in a festival devoted to eating and dancing on the graves. Tears of grief were not welcome as, according to Aztec belief, they made the return journey slippery and dangerous for the deceased.
After the Spanish colonists arrived in the 16th century, the reign of the Aztecs came to an end but the Day of the Dead continued, aligned with its Catholic equivalent. The children’s festival, renamed El Día de los Innocentes, is held on 1 November, All Saints’ Day, and the adults’ festival, El Día de los Muertos is celebrated the following day, All Souls’ Day or the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.