Nobel Prize winner, Octavio Paz, in his essay, “The Labyrinth of Solitude” explores the Mexican fascination with the duality of life and death. “Our relationship with death is intimate”, Paz writes, “more intimate perhaps than those of any other people.” He further described that the Mexican has no qualms about getting up close and personal with death, noting that he “…chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite plaything and his most lasting love.” Whatever the reason, this Mexican celebration is a full-blooded affair, colorful, highly emotional and it lasts for days.
To celebrate this event, many Mexican families erect altars to the dead in their homes and often in the street or public spaces. The altars are decorated with papel picado – cut tissue paper – in three layers to represent heaven, earth and the underworld, candles to guide the souls, bright orange marigolds (the zempoalxochitl, flower of the dead) – to represent the fugacity of life, photographs of the departed, candy skulls inscribed with the name of the deceased.Included in these altars are ofrendas, offerings of the favorite foods and drinks of the departed.The latter often include bottles of beer or tequila, cups of atole (corn gruel) or coffee, and fresh water, as well as platters of rice, beans, chicken or meat in mole sauce, candied pumpkin or sweet potatoes to be enjoyed by their spirits when they return to visit their loved ones.
In Toronto, the Day of the Dead Celebration, presented by Scotiabank, was held at the Harbourfront.
In addtion, two altars or Ofrendas were erected to celebrate the lives of two Mexican Icons: Artist Frida Kalho and Mario Moreno Cantinflas , Mexicos
In addition to the OFRENDAS, with a splash of colour, heaps of fancy footwork and keen attention to detail, the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company performed a repertoire that embraces the wide cultural diversity of authentic dances, costumes and traditions from diverse regions within the Mexican nation for over two decades, thrilling audiences large and small.
As well, guests were treated to Mexican delights prepared by one of Toronto’s youngest and most accomplished chefs Luis Valenzuela and his assistant chef garde manger Eric Shoemaker.
In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a holiday that tends to be a subject of fascination for visitors from abroad. With its rare mix of pre-Hispanic and Roman Catholic rituals, it is also a perfect illustration of the synthesis of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cultures that has come to define the country and its people.