Monday, 19 November 2012

The Day of the Dead by Karen King

One of the things I love about travelling is learning about the different customs various countries have. I usually come back with lots of ideas for stories, which unfortunately I rarely get time to write up.

I got married recently and we went on honeymoon to Mexico at the end of October. I was surprised to be see the above 'skeletons' in Cancun airport and couldn't resist taking a photo. Then I found that 'dressed up' skeletons were everywhere. Like these statues sitting outside a shop in Fifth Avenue.

There were even chocolate and candy skulls for sale. And 'warriors' walking around, decorated like this to represent 'life and death'. As you can see, half of him is decorated as a skeleton. He was very friendly though and happy to have his photo taken with me.

Then I discovered the reason why. It was just before the festival 'The Day of the Dead', which occurs on November 1st and 2nd. Mexicans believe that this is time the dead return to Earth to visit their families. According to legend, the souls of children visit on Nov 1st and everyone else on Nov 2nd. There are lots of celebrations  and graves are cleaned and decorated, with offerings left for the visiting ancestors - toys for children and bottles of alcohol for adults! This might seem a little macabre but Mexicans believe that death is transition from one life to another in a different level, and at this time of year the dead and living can both communicate with each other. How fascinating if this could really happen, I can feel a story brewing already.

If you could meet anyone from the past for one day, who would it be and what would you say to them?

Karen King writes all sorts of books for children. Check out her website at


JO said...

This is fascinating - I'm sure I've come across other cultures which have a 'day of the dead' - the Chinese? Hinduism? *off to look it up - know I've read it somewhere ...*

Karen said...

Let me know what country it is, Jo. The Day of the Dead festival is similar to the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day but a lot more colourful.

JO said...

I've got it somewhere in my travelling notebooks - so it could take some finding. I've a feeling it's Chinese - I went to a wonderful Chinese temple in Penang (Malaysia) with someone who told me all about the little shrines they have for the dead. It's very different from the Catholic All Souls, as they are clear that people are dead. But the Chinese believe (I think) that the dead are really looking out for the living. If I find out more, I'll let you know.

Karen said...

Thanks, Jo :)

Susan Price said...

Congratulations on your wedding, Karen!
I think a day of the dead is found in many cultures. There's reason to believe that Hallowe'en is a remnant of a British celebration of 'the returning dead'.
And also that when we set out mince-pies for Father Christmas, it's a dim memory of a time when you left food for your returning ancestors. I like to think so anyway!

Karen said...

Thanks, Sue:)

Fascinating about Hallowe'en and leaving out mince pies for Santa being reminscent of 'The Day of the Dead'.I think most of our customs are rooted way back in the past and get a bit merged in the process.

Anonymous said...

I would like to speak to a lot of people from the past. Two that spring to mind are Tolkien and Keats, because I'd like to hear their views on life today, and think they'd express it so beautifully :)

Ann Evans said...

Fascinating post Karen and great photos. If I had chance to talk to someone from the past, it would be Elvis and I'd just get him to sing to me!