Day of the Dead in Mexico

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Although this holiday enjoyed generations of celebration, it was necessarily changed by the conquering Spanish as the Catholic traditions of the old world were enforced and overlaid upon this custom. As it has evolved in the centuries since, both retaining and revising many of the more traditional approaches, Dia de Los Muertos has become something unique to the people who celebrate it with numerous variations depending upon the region from which they originated. While it is the only celebration specifically dedicated by name to the dead, it is not the only tradition in which specific days intended to honor those who have died or the ancestors. Holidays like it are celebrated throughout various cultures of the earth, all of which are intended to honor the memory of the deceased as well as recognize the joyfulness of life. This tradition is a prime example of theological syncretism in which various traditions are brought together to form what is today a seemingly unified and well-worn celebration. To understand how this is so, it is necessary to first have an idea of what is meant by the term syncretism and then to trace the tradition of Dia de Los Muertos through its history from the earliest known practice through to the modern-day.The definition of syncretism may seem simple enough, but it can encompass staggering changes to people’s cultural belief systems. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the word syncretism refers to “the combination of different forms of belief or practice. the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms.”1 Because the combination of beliefs or practices is not always equal, predictable changes are not often made. Instead, these beliefs are intermixed to varying levels and degrees. When applied to the field of religion, the beliefs and practices of the meshed tradition can often haveonly limited reflections of the original concepts. Imbach says, “[Syncretism] is the union of two or more opposite beliefs, so that the synthesized form is a new thing. It is not always a total fusion, but maybe a combination of separate segments that remain identifiable compartments.”