The Day of the Dead is a sacred, ancient tradition in Mexico and throughout Latin America. The annual holiday is known for its costumes and colorful decorations just recently began. If you saw “Spectre,” the latest James Bond film, you might be surprised to learn that the movie makers invented the parade depicted in the film. However, shortly after the film was released, the Mexican government took steps to make the parade a reality. Now it has become a new annual event in Mexico City.
What is the Day of the Dead?
Dia de los Muertos, translated to Day of the Dead, has been celebrated throughout Latin America for several thousand years. You’ve probably seen images of painted skull masks and thought it was similar to Halloween. Although the two traditions appear similar and they occur around the same time of year, their meanings are very different.
The people of Mexico do not view this tradition as spooky or dark. Instead, the holiday is a time for families to express love and reverence toward their deceased ancestors. Although skulls and other death symbols play an important role, the celebrations are full of lively music, dancing and color that uplifts the spirit and celebrates life.
The Day of the Dead is a much older tradition than Halloween. It originated thousands of years ago with the Aztecs and other bygone civilizations that once inhabited Central and South America. In ancient times, these cultures saw death as part of the cycle of life, and they believed that their ancestors returned to the natural world during the time of the rituals.
The tradition combines elements of ancient beliefs and modern Christianity. The ritual takes place on the first two days in November, coinciding with All Saint’s Day, a Catholic religious holiday. The central focus of the holiday are the “ofrendas,” or altars, built in homes and cemeteries to welcome dead ancestors back to the world of the living. The altars are adorned with Marigold flowers and various types of offerings to please the spirits.
How did the movie “Spectre” inspire this new celebration?
The Day of the Dead holiday is traditionally involves small family gatherings in quiet ceremonies, but in recent years, the tradition has taken on a different tone. Because of changing politics and the influence of movies and television, there have been more efforts to liven up the holiday to stimulate industry and attract tourism.
The opening scene of the James Bond film “Spectre” depicts an elaborate parade in Mexico City where everyone is wearing skull masks and death-themed costumes. The scene follows Bond as he tracks down a villain who is using the parade as a distraction. The film, which opened on November 6th, 2016, cost over $250 million to produce and grossed over $880 million at theaters worldwide.
When asked about the motivation behind the parade, Lourdes Berho, CEO of the Mexican Tourism Board, explained that the movie created expectations throughout the world. He also notes how millions of people in 67 countries saw “Spectre.” Potential tourists might be disappointed if they were expecting a spectacular parade during the Day of the Dead holiday.
The Mexican Tourism Board saw this as a way to generate tourism to the country and also to fulfill the desires of the Mexican people for more dazzling celebrations. The tourism board even acquired some of the props used in the movie for the first parade.
Authorities hope the parade could become a large event comparable to the Brazilian Carnival celebration. The famous Carnival festival, which takes place during the Catholic holiday Lent, attracts nearly five million people and over 400,000 tourists from other countries.
The First Day of the Dead Parade
The first ever Day of the Dead parade took place in 2016 on Saturday, October 29th, three days before the holiday. Like the fictional event in the James Bond film, the real parade occurred in Mexico City. It was a large, impressive event with giant floats and costumes similar to the ones in the movie. There were hundreds of performers who put on the show and a crowd of over 100,000 people attended the event.
In 2017, the city put on the parade for the second time, and it was much bigger than the first. There were about 700 performers and a crowd of roughly 300,000 spectators. Many of the attendees wore the traditional costume of the wealthy skeleton lady, La Catrina, dressed in fancy 19th-century garb.
What To Expect This Year
The parade will take place on Saturday, October 27th in Mexico City from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will begin at Estela de Luz and will end at Zocalo Square, traversing a distance of about one mile. The event will be slightly larger than the two previous ones, with over 800 performers. As before, there will be numerous dancers, giant marionette puppets, and floats.
This year the parade will still have some recognizable elements from the James Bond film. However, the focus will be more on the themes and traditions that are commonplace for Day of the Dead celebrations. For example, the giant balloons and puppets depicting Mexican characters such as Mojigangas, Jose Guadalupe Posada and Catrina.
The parade is not only an idea inspired by Hollywood, it’s part of a larger effort to compete with Halloween. Some traditionalists in Mexico are concerned that Halloween could overshadow the Day of the Dead. Although many families in Mexico continue to enjoy Halloween festivities, the Day of the Dead tradition remains strong.