Thursday, November 1, 2012

Día de Los Muertos, 1924

Feliz Dia de los Muertos. Today is a day of remembrance for those we have lost. Although seemingly dark, Dia de los Muertos, or "All Soul's Day,"is in fact a joyous celebration. Observed throughout Latin America and in southwestern regions of the United States, Dia de los Muertos provides opportunity to honor loved ones who have passed away. The occasion is marked by the erection of altars in homes and in front of Catholic churches (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Dia de los Muertos altar, San Fernando Cathedral, 2011
The altars are then populated with photos of loved ones and objects that held meaning for the deceased. Usually, these are consumer items or foods, ie: can of Ranch Style beans, can of Pearl Beer, favorite shirt, favorite cigarettes, etc. These items are said to be enjoyed by the deceased when their spirit returns for this one special day. Other trappings of the holiday include: pan de muerto, a special sweet bread with a cross-bone decoration; and calaveras de azucar, or molded sugar skulls, which are sometimes eaten but most times not. Sugar skulls are perhaps the most pervasive icon of the holiday and embody the core duality of death and rejoicing.

It is unclear how long San Antonians have been celebrating Dia de los Muertos the way we know it today. My best guess is initially sometime after 1850. The first wave of solidified Mexican nationalism gained footing only after the Mexican-American War. More than likely, though, widespread observance throughout the city occurred in the 1920s, following the Mexican Revolution. Below is the earliest evidence of widespread observance that I have found. The mention of class as a component of observance is interesting. Enjoy!

Figure 2: San Antonio Light (4 November 1924), 8.1.

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