DAY OF THE DEAD: Symbolism

Early this month, Mexican cemeteries are aglow with candlelight and the sights, sounds and smells of festivity, as families gather together for the Day of the Dead. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

The Day of the Dead is a celebration in which the living reunite with the spirits of departed loved ones. The favorite foods and drinks of the deceased are set aside on altars built for the occasion. Juan Francisco Urrusti is a documentary filmmaker living in Mexico.

“The Day of the Dead is full of symbols. Flower, to the pre-Columbian thinking, was the symbol of joy, and the skull was the symbol of life. The lizard was the symbol of fertility. And all these symbols are present in the offerings.”

Now, you’ve probably seen Mexican folk art which features tiny skeleton figurines in all sorts of activities. There are skeleton Mariachi bands, skeleton lovers, bullfighters, dentists – it’s all part of the symbolism of the Day of the Dead.

“The skeleton invites us to laugh at ourselves, and it also contains the skull which is the symbol of life, of rebirth.”

The Day of the Dead celebration has spawned a whole industry of craftsmen who sculpt, paint and cook skulls.

“Those craftsmen make tiny skulls or big skulls from chocolate, and from sugar. In any corner, you will find an old woman selling skulls with names on the forehead. And you have to put the skull with your name and the skull with the name of the dead on the altars. It’s our way of being together. It’s like telling Death, ‘Hey, I’m not afraid of you. I’m laughing at you, because in the end, I know I’m going to come back.”

We’ll hear more on the Day of the Dead in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I’m Jim Metzner.

DAY OF THE DEAD: Symbolism

Mexico’s Day of the Dead features a variety of morbid symbolism.
Air Date:11/04/1997
Scientist:
Transcript:

Early this month, Mexican cemeteries are aglow with candlelight and the sights, sounds and smells of festivity, as families gather together for the Day of the Dead. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

The Day of the Dead is a celebration in which the living reunite with the spirits of departed loved ones. The favorite foods and drinks of the deceased are set aside on altars built for the occasion. Juan Francisco Urrusti is a documentary filmmaker living in Mexico.

"The Day of the Dead is full of symbols. Flower, to the pre-Columbian thinking, was the symbol of joy, and the skull was the symbol of life. The lizard was the symbol of fertility. And all these symbols are present in the offerings."

Now, you've probably seen Mexican folk art which features tiny skeleton figurines in all sorts of activities. There are skeleton Mariachi bands, skeleton lovers, bullfighters, dentists - it's all part of the symbolism of the Day of the Dead.

"The skeleton invites us to laugh at ourselves, and it also contains the skull which is the symbol of life, of rebirth."

The Day of the Dead celebration has spawned a whole industry of craftsmen who sculpt, paint and cook skulls.

"Those craftsmen make tiny skulls or big skulls from chocolate, and from sugar. In any corner, you will find an old woman selling skulls with names on the forehead. And you have to put the skull with your name and the skull with the name of the dead on the altars. It's our way of being together. It's like telling Death, 'Hey, I'm not afraid of you. I'm laughing at you, because in the end, I know I'm going to come back."

We'll hear more on the Day of the Dead in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.