Obsessed as they were with death, the ancient peoples of Mexico believed that it was necessary to die, in order to be born again. To guarantee this, they set aside two months in which to honor their dead. The ninth month of the Nahuatl calendar was for children; the 10th for adults. During this celebration, human sacrifices were made to insure the flow of fresh blood, so vital to regeneration.
Offerings were set beside the sacrificial stone and although this was basically a solemn occasion, it was “fiesta” time in the Aztec world and a good excuse to drink pulque (a potent brew made from cactus).
The evolution of the Aztec empire was cut short by the Spanish conquest and it was not difficult for the conquering priests to persuade the recent converts to shift their months of the dead to a two-day celebration, known as All Saints and All Souls Day. The meshing of pagan and Catholic rituals resulting from this formed an interesting tradition, which lingers to this day.
This link to the past is long and not always clear but it is a sacred one. November 1 is set aside for the children who have died; November 2, for adults and people go to the cemetery to honor their dearly departed and “convivir” (spend time) with them on these days.
Food is painstakingly and reverently prepared and toted - along with several bottles of the preferred drink - to the gravesite. Tombs are decorated with the seasonal flower, the pungent “tzempazuchil” (marigold) and candles and incense are laid around the grave. Once the stage has been set, the gathering begins around midnight with prayers, ending in the wee hours of the morning with drinking and raucous toasting to the “continued good health” of the deceased.