With Mexico honouring its dead for Día de Muertos on November 1 and 2, we’d like to give you an insight to the famous festivity by giving you some great examples of original expressions to help you understand the philosophy behind this unique celebration, and attitudes to death in general.
So first thing you should know before we start is that Mexico’s approach to death is quite distinct to that of Europeans. Instead of being creepy places that no one ever visits, cemeteries in Mexico are colourful places built to meet with the dead – a fact which is at its obvious during Día de Muertos.
Mexicans have great sense of humour and ironically like to refer to death as la flaca (the skinny one), la huesuda (the bony one), or la pelona (the bald one) who came to take their loved ones to the underworld. The close relationship Mexicans have with death is in fact linked to the strong and ancient beliefs of continuation of life after death in a parallel world.
Researchers say that the custom of celebrating the dead in Mexico dates back thousands years. But it is when the Spanish arrived, during the 16th century, that ancient customs blended with All Saint’s Day, to create the colourful festival of Día de Muertos we know today.
Día de Muertos is a way of celebrating life rather than focusing on death as something sad. In fact, Mexicans believe mourning and sadness – especially on these dates – is an insult to the dead, that’s the reason why they prefer to celebrate it with music and joy.
The expression Los muertos al cajón y los vivos al fiestón (the dead to the coffin and the living to the party) pretty much sums up how Mexicans get over it to continue with their life. They’ll also use the sayings Chupó faros (he smoked his last cigarette), Ya entregó el equipo (he’s handed over his equipment), or Ya colgó los tenis (he hung up his trainers) when talking about a friend or family member that died, as a way to alleviate the loss.
With the ancient Mexicans already playing with death for their Juego de pelota, some will argue today’s descendants channel this fearlessness. The expressions ¡Asústame panteón! (scare me cemetery) as a way of saying that you’re not afraid of them; or the classic ¡Primero muerto! (I’d sooner die) which is pretty much a literal translation from English meaning that you won’t be changing your mind any time soon. ¡Sobre mi cadáver! (over my dead body) is another literal translation.
The popular saying Vale más un cobarde en casa, que un valiente en el cementerio (better a coward at home than a hero in the cemetery) probably contradicts all of the above. But as Mexicans like contradictions, I guess that’s fine!
To be honest, most Mexicans might actually be afraid of death but the difference is that they like to give things a positive spin: en este mundo matraca de morir nadie se escapa (in this painful world nobody escapes from death).
So with philosophy and mortality in our minds, the quite exquisite expression comes to mind: La muerte está tan segura de alcanzarnos que nos da toda una vida de ventaja (Death is so sure to catch up with us that it gives us a lifetime head start).
Enjoy the moment, live life well, day after day. And for those complaining their life is not easy, a popular belief in Mexico reassures us: Más vale mala suerte y buena muerte que buena suerte y mala muerte (Bad luck and a good death is better than good luck and a bad death).
Finally, as a way to say goodbye, I’ll end this note with this last saying: Como dijo el payaso en su lecho de muerte… me voy, ¡no los entretengo más! (As the clown said on his deathbed, I’m off, I won’t entertain you anymore).