El Dia de Los Muertos in Belize
The Day of the Dead has gained worldwide recognition thanks to pop culture exposure over the years, but this traditionally Mexican holiday that comes right after Halloween also has a rich history with Belize. That’s thanks to the idea having root in times that long preceded the birth of Mexico and Belize as nations.
In both countries, the idea of a holiday that venerates the ancestral dead came down from ancestors in the expansive Maya Empire. And even after the fall of the Maya Empire — when the two distant regions were estranged from each other — both Belize and Mexico solidified the date of the holiday thanks to European imperialism and Catholic conversion efforts. For practicing Catholics, the fundamental values of Dia de Los Muertos are not so different from All Saints Day.
A Time of Celebration
It might seem strange that a holiday celebrating death would be joyous and colorful, but Dia de Los Muertos festivities in Belize tend to be loud, garish, and colorful. While adults and children parade down the streets in skull masks, they’re most often vibrantly colored and wildly patterned.
Families similarly enjoy colorful and carefully designed calavera, or “sugar skulls” — small and colorful skulls made from sugar. But that’s just one of many delicacies that include tamales, hearty chicken soups, and enormous stuffed sandwiches. That’s not taking into account the fruity drinks and alcohol that are such an integral part of the Day of the Dead experience for many Belizeans. If you’re a visitor looking for a party that you won’t forget, you won’t find a crazier experience than Day of the Dead in a Belizean village.
And a Time of Veneration
While it may seem like the holiday is nothing more than an endless celebration, there’s more to it than that. Because while the living are indulging, they’re also conscientious about sharing with their dead ancestors the things that they enjoyed in life. Whether it’s a favorite soda, a snack from the corner store, or an old family recipe, food is prepared and shared as if the whole family is sitting at the table — living and dead.
On the surface, it may seem just a superstitious way to keep the dead placated, but it’s really a celebration of the continuum between life and death. By understanding that death is the next stage on a journey we all take, and by recalling our memories and stories of the people they lost, Belizeans use this ritual to keep their ancestors alive and contextualize their own fear of the hereafter so they can live their lives to the fullest. No matter your faith, it’s an experience worth having.