Soon, the dead are coming for a visit. In the US (and increasingly here in Denmark) Halloween will be celebrated tomorrow. Scary pumpkins are placed on front porches, children are choosing their most terrifying costumes, and some will go to church and light candles on graves. But instead of writing about jack-o’-lanterns and trick or treating, I want to explore the fascinating and infinitely colourful Día de los Muertos.
In Mexico, the period from the 31st of October to the 2nd of November signals a thinning of the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Here, the souls of the dead visit the living, eat their favourite meals, drink their favourite drinks, and listen to music with their loved ones. In the Ethnographic Collections at Moesgaard Museum, we have an awesome collection of artefacts, collected in Mexico around the Day of the Dead. There are full size papier mâché skeletons, intricate paper cuttings, decorated sugar skulls, and—my favourite—plenty of little skeleton figurines going about their business. Some are dressed up for a night out, some are chilling in their coffins, a few are giving birth to little skeleton babies, one is serving dinner, and a surprising number are visiting their skeleton dentist.
If the afterlife are anything like that, it really doesn’t seem too bad. Except for all the visits to the dentist, of course…
But of course, death is not all fun and games in Mexico. Perhaps this elaborate celebration is in part a reaction to a harsh society where there is too much death. Where children die all too often and where violence is rampant in the big cities? And maybe it makes it just a little bit easier to live with, if you know that once a year those you have lost come for a visit?
You can visit a little bit of Mexico, and experience the Day of the Dead for yourself, in the exhibition The Lives of the Dead at Moesgaard Museum. Read more about it here.