In late October millions of Monarchs begin to arrive to the magnificent oyamel fir and pine tree forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, located in the heart of Mexico in the eastern regions of Michoacán. Their return coincides with the annual celebration of Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead fiesta. Native peoples and their descendants today believe butterflies are the souls of departed loved ones, returning to Earth to be remembered by their ancestors. An even older tradition connects the Monarchs with the corn harvest, as their return signified that the corn was ripe. In the language of the native Purpécha Indians, the name for the Monarch is “harvester.” Ofrenda de Muertos Gloucester
The above drawing was created by local artist Jeff Cluett. We purchased it from him several years ago. Jeff works at Surfari on Main Street if you’d like to get in touch with him.
Last evening, All Hallow’s Eve, marked the beginning of the three day celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Today, November 1st, is Dia de los Angelitos, the day when deceased children are honored (All Saints Day). Tomorrow, November 2nd, is referred to as Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos, the day when deceased adults are honored (All Souls Day). We’ve created an ofrenda on our front porch and neighbors are welcome to place a photo of a loved one who has passed on the altar.
I love the designs of the Papel Picado, especially the Dia de los Muertos skeletons doing everyday things. I found some at Nomad in Cambridge. Deb Colburn, the owner, curates gorgeous folk art for her shop from all around Mexico, and from all around the world. She’s a very sweet person to stop in and visit with, and is also very knowledge about Mexican culture. Nomad is located at 1741 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.
There is a beautiful ofrenda at the Peabody Museum at Harvard, which is where I learned about the Mexican Purépecha indigenous people’s name for the Monarch butterfly, the “Harvester.” The altar is part of the Museum’s permanent collection and is on display year round.
The Peabody Museum’s exhibition of a Day of the Dead ofrenda or altar is located in the Encounters With the Americas gallery. The exhibit features pieces from the Alice P. Melvin Collection of Mexican Folk Art and represents the Aztec origins of the holiday and the Catholic symbols incorporated into the tradition, from skeletons to plush Jesus figures.
The altar is contained within a box covered with panels that were decorated by local students and regional and international artists. The altars were designed by the Peabody exhibitions staff and Mexican artists Mizael Sanchez and Monica Martinez.
Originating with the Aztecs, the Mexican Day of the Dead is a unique blend of Mesoamerican and Christian rituals. The holiday, which is celebrated on November 1, All Saints’ Day, is usually dedicated to children; November 2, All Souls’ Day, is dedicated to adults.
Traditions vary from region to region, but generally families gather at cemeteries to tend and decorate the graves of their departed loved ones and remember them by telling stories, eating their favorite foods, and dancing in their honor. Many families build altars at home, decorated with flowers and food, especially pan de muerto or “bread of the dead.” A festive and social occasion, the holiday welcomes the return of those who have died and recognizes the human cycle of life and death.
The Peabody’s permanent altar features items from the Alice P. Melvin collection of Mexican folk art. To see these items, click here.
Curated by Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America and Mexican artist Mizael Sanchez.
To watch a video interview with Mizael Sanchez, click here.
On a recent visit to say hello to ELise and Tucker at Cedar Rock Gardens they were hard at work planting a humongous field of tulips, planned to bloom for next Mother’s Day. Elise generously shared pots of fresh marigolds dug from their fields, not in good enough shape to sell, but perfect for our first ever Day of the Dead altar, Ofrenda de Muertos.
The vibrant colors and fresh citrusy scent of marigolds lure the spirits–marigolds are strewn about and placed around the altar so the souls can find their way. There is a wild version of marigolds that blooms in October and the Spanish name for the flower is flor de muerto, or flower of death.
The altar, or “offering to the dead,” is a sacred Mexican tradition where those who have passed away are honored by the living. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, on the 1st to honor the souls of children and on the 2nd, to honor adults. I became fascinated with the tradition after learning that Monarchs arrive in Mexico about the same time as Dia de los Muertos is celebrated. In Mexican folklore, butterflies represent the returning souls of departed loved ones. In the native language of the Purépecha, the name for the Monarch is the “harvester” butterfly. The Purépecha are a group of indigenous people centered in the northwestern region of the Mexican state of Michoacán, the very region to where the Monarchs return every year!
There is a beautiful ofrenda at the Peabody Museum, which is where I learned about the “Harvester” butterfly. The altar is part of the Museum’s permanent collection and is on display year round. Here is a link to the exhibit.