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Day of the Dead history in Mexico is traced back to pre-Hispanic days although the celebration as we know it today has little to do with the festivals held by native cultures.Death in Mesoamerican Cultures
Some Spaniards chronicled the celebrations they saw in the area before Catholicism was imposed to the native cultures but their versions are unclear, contradictory and biased by the differences between their culture and the native ones.
It is known that the Aztec held big celebrations to honor their ancestors in the 8 and 9 month of their calendar and that the first one was to honor the dead children and the second to commemorate the adult dead.
It is also acknowledged that in Aztec mythology Mictlantecuhtli was a god of the dead and the king of Mictlan the lowest and northernmost section of the underworld. He was one of the principal gods of the Aztecs and was the most prominent of several gods and goddesses of death and the underworld.
The origin of this celebration is commonly related with the Celtic celebration of the Samhain held at the end of the harvest . The Celtics believed that during these days the barrier between our world and the Otherworld stretched and that good and bad spirits could visit our world.
This celebration was assimilated by the Romans when they invaded the Celtics and they combined it with the harvest celebration in honor of Pomona Goddess practiced at the end of October.
In 700- 800 AC as an effort to eradicate all the pagan celebrations, the Catholic Church banished it and established the All Saints Day in November 1st and the All Souls' Day in November 2nd to replace it.
This ceremony was done to honor their dead, let them know they´re remembered and to ask for their protection. This tradition however has been lost and nowadays most people would only visit the cemeteries to set flowers on the tombstones and leave afterwards.
All the native temples were destroyed and Catholic churches were built in their ruins; the locals were forced to convert to Catholicism and all of their traditions were banned; they were compelled to live the way the conquerors wanted them to, and to commemorate the same festivities they did.
Some Spanish chronicles from the time narrate that All Saints Day was adapted to remember the dead children while All Souls' Day became the day to honor the dead grownups.
Local flowers and food were added to the Spanish altars and eventually the colors and shapes of the Indigenous people transformed the Catholic celebration blending it with the remains of the native cultures.
At the end of the 19th Century Jose Guadalupe Posada's art work expressed in images the Mexicans intimate and comfortable relationship with death and their dead.
Tireless printmaker and engraver Posada participated in the creation of the calaveras, satirical epitaphs describing the hypothetic dead circumstances of politicians and rich people accompanied with illustrations of skeletons that portrayed the satirical event.
Posada's artistic legacy has helped the next generations of artists to express the cultural meaning of the Day of the Dead celebrations which blended with the many folk art styles in the country creating the beautiful Day of the Dead Art.
After the Revolution war the country entered an era of prosperity and new elements were added to the celebrations like the papel picado or chiseled paper flags and the commercial Day of the Dead bread.
Day of the dead celebrations held by the Indigenous people in Mexico were named World´s cultural heritage by the UNESCO in 2003.