2 November 2017

Día de los Muertos: The Day of the Dead

El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a traditional Mexican holiday which begins on October 31st and culminates on November 2nd; when the souls of the deceased are believed to return to visit the living...

Young girls dressed for the Dia de Los Muertos parade in Mexico City

Parades, gatherings, and the preparation of offrendas (altars to the dead)  are designed to encourage these visits by honoring their souls.

The origins of the tradition can be traced back over 3,000 years to ancient Mesoamerican civilisations. Originally celebrated in the summer months, the ancient festival was moved to its current date by Spanish conquistadors to coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Hallows Tide.

The best known symbol of this celebration is the mischievous skull (calavera) or skeleton, which inspires costumes and decorations. Other symbols include the marigold and the monarch butterfly, a native insect which arrives in Mexico for the winter around 1st November each year.

Whilst the holiday is uniquely Mexican, its customs have spread widely throughout South and Central America and wherever those with Mexican heritage have settled. The spirit of the holiday is one of celebration rather than of mourning; but the joyous festivities are part of a more serious reminder of the nature of life and the inevitability of death.

We've been on the hunt for some Día de los Muertos symbolism at Grays, to help us get into the spirit of this unique celebration...

Enamel butterfly brooch by David Andersen, late 19th century, available at The Antique Jewellery Company
Diamante encrusted skull brooch, contemporary, available at Tings Jewellery Box
Diamante encrusted skull brooch, contemporary, available at Tings Jewellery Box
Gold and black enamel Memento Mori ring with the engraving 'Gone Before, Not Forgotten', c18th century, available at Peter Szuhay
Cicada insect brooch, Art Nouveau. Available at The Antique Jewellery Company
Stag antlers skull with original gold loop, c.1860, available at Peter Szuhay
Black net lace, c.1900, available at Diane Harby - Deekoo

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