Assume that you have been invited to one of the following social/cultural events for the very first time: A Day of the Dead family picnic in a Mexican graveyard. In a minimum of two pages explain how you might avoid the six barriers to intercultural communication discussed in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of Jandtâ??s book â?? anxiety, focusing on similarities rather than differences, ethno-centrism, stereotyping or prejudices, different non-verbal communications and languages?
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The Day of the Dead
— Mexico honors those gone but not forgotten
By Dale Hoyt Palfrey
Taken from the URL: http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/muertos.html
Background on the Day of the Dead:
Her face is unforgettable and she goes by many names: La Catrina, la Flaca, la Huesuda,
la Pelona–Fancy Lady, Skinny, Bony, Baldy. A fixture in Mexican society, she’s not
some trendy fashion model, but La Muerte–Death.
Renowned writer Octavio Paz observes that, undaunted by death, the
Mexican has no qualms about getting up close and personal with death,
noting that he “…chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with
it; it is his favorite plaything and his most lasting love.”
November 1, All Saints Day, and November 2, All Souls Day are
marked throughout Mexico by a plethora of intriguing customs that vary
widely according to the ethnic roots of each region. Common to all,
however, are colorful adornments and lively reunions at family burial
plots, the preparation of special foods, offerings laid out for the departed
on commemorative altars and religious rites that are likely to include
In most localities November 1 is set aside for remembrance of deceased infants and
children, often referred to as angelitos (little angels). Those who have died as adults are
honored November 2.
From mid-October through the first week of November, markets and shops all over
Mexico are replete with the special accouterments for the Dia de Muertos (Day of the
Dead). These include all manner of skeletons and other macabre toys; intricate tissue
paper cut-outs called papel picado; elaborate wreaths and crosses decorated with paper or
silk flowers; candles and votive lights; and fresh seasonal
flowers, particularly cempazuchiles (marigolds) and
barro de obispo (cockscomb). Among the edible goodies
offered are skulls, coffins and the like made from sugar,
chocolate or amaranth seeds and special baked goods,
notably sugary sweet rolls called pan de muerto that
come in various sizes invariably topped with bits of
dough shaped like bones and, in some regions, unadorned
dark breads molded into humanoid figures called animas
(souls). All of these goods are destined for the buyer’s ofrenda de muertos (offering to the
At home members of the family might use the purchases to elaborate an altar in honor of
deceased relatives, decorating it with papel picado, candles, flowers, photographs of the
departed, candy skulls inscribed with the name of the deceased, and a selection of his or
her favorite foods and beverages. The latter often include bottles of beer or tequila, cups
of atole (corn gruel) or coffee, and fresh water, as well as platters of rice, beans, chicken
or meat in mole sauce, candied pumpkin or sweet potatoes and the aforementioned
The spirits of the dead are expected to pay a holiday visit home and should be provided
with an enticing repast and adequate sustenance for the journey. Frequently a wash basin
and clean hand towel are provided so that visiting souls can freshen up before the feast.
The offering may also include a pack of cigarettes for the after-dinner enjoyment of
former smokers, or a selection of toys and extra sweets for deceased children.
In setting up the altar, a designated area of the home is cleared of its normal furnishings.
The arrangement often consists of a table and
several overturned wooden crates placed in tiers
and covered with clean linens. The offerings are
then laid out in an artistic and fairly symmetrical
fashion. The smell of burning copal (incense) and
the light of numerous candles are intended to help
the departed find their way.
Meanwhile, at the family burial plot in the local
cemetery, relatives spruce up each gravesite. In
rural villages this may entail cutting down weeds
that have sprouted up during the rainy season, as well as giving tombs a fresh coat of
paint after making any needed structural repairs. The graves are then decorated according
to local custom. The tomb may be simply adorned by a cross formed of marigold petals
or elaborately embellished with colorful coronas (wreaths) and fresh or artificial floral
arrangements. In many areas children’s graves are festooned with brightly colored paper
streamers or other festive adornments.
On November 2 family members gather at the cemetery for gravesite reunions more
festive than somber. Some bring along picnic baskets, bottles of tequila for toasting the
departed or even a mariachi band to lead a heartfelt sing-along. Local merchants set up
provisional stands outside the cemetery gates to sell food and drinks. The booming
reports of pyrontechnic rockets may announce the commencement of an open-air
memorial mass, the ocassion’s most solemn interlude.
While death is a topic largely avoided in the USA, the remembrance of deceased
ancestors and loved ones is traditional among diverse cultures around the globe, often
marked by lighting candles or lamps and laying out offerings of food and drink. Such
celebrations can be traced back as far as the glory days of ancient Egypt when departed
souls were honored during the great festival of Osiris.
In Mexico the Day of the Dead is a holiday that tends to be a subject of fascination for
visitors from abroad. With its rare mix of pre-Hispanic and Roman Catholic rituals, it is
also a perfect illustration of the synthesis of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cultures that has
come to define the country and its people.
Death held a significant place in the pantheons and rituals of Mexico’s ancient
civilizations. Among the Aztecs, for
example, it was considered a blessing to
die in childbirth, battle or human
sacrifice, for these assured the victim a
desirable destination in the afterlife.
The success of the Spaniard’s spiritual
conquest in Mexico is due in part to
their willingness to incorporate certain
pre-Hispanic customs into Christian
Not surprisingly, as Mexican society
has modernized, long-held customs
have begun to fall by the wayside, particularly among urbanites. But the rapid
encroachment of U.S. culture, intensified since the enactment of North American Free
Trade Agreement, seems to have spurred many citizens to actively pursue the
preservation of Mexican traditions. While each October the country’s supermarket
shelves are now crammed with plastic pumpkins, witches’ hats and rubber masks,
government and private institutions have recently increased promotion of
commemorative altars displayed in museums, educational centers and other public
Most Mexico guidebooks make special mention of Day of the Dead customs, focusing on
the celebrated all-night candlelight vigils in cemeteries at Janitzio Island and Mixquic, to
the extent that either may draw nearly as many awed observers as celebrants.
Mixquic, once a farming island of the Aztec empire, is now a district of Mexico City that
has retained something of a rural village ambiance and its ancient indigenous roots. The
area takes on a busy and festive air in the final days of October as merchants set up street
stands to hawk their wares for the Day of the Dead. In the cemetery, all family burial
plots are elaborately embellished with an array of earthly delights in the hope of luring
departed spirits. At 2 p.m. November 1, relatives gather at each tomb to mourn the loss of
loved ones with la llorada–the weeping. Later, when dark would normally envelop the
graveyard, the glow of thousands of votive candles illuminates the way for the departed.
At Midnight they are called home with the mournful tolling of bells. Then each soul is
lovingly remembered with recitations of the Rosary.
Day of the Dead festivities in villages throughout the state of Michoacan have a
distinctive flavor reflecting the culture of the area’s Purepecha Indians. Having
successfully resisted conquest in the pre-Hispanic era, this ethnic group remained
immune to outside influences until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. As in other
parts of Mexico, floral tributes, regional repast and candlelight vigils in each local
cemetery are integral to the November 1 and 2 celebrations, but among the Purepechas
(or Tarascans, as the Spanish named them) these activities are relegated to women and
children. Meanwhile, the male population commemorates the season with other rituals
related to the fall harvest. Throngs of visitors annually trek to the Island of Janitzio to
witness the graveyard vigil there, although equally colorful celebrations may be observed
more serenely in most other Michoacan villages.
These Day of the Dead rituals are echoed in cities and villages throughout Mexico. As
each locality offers distinctive traditions and a unique flavor bound to fascinate the
curious traveler, a visit to any Mexican cemetery would be a worthwhile addition to the
itinerary of anyone touring the country this time of year.
For things to do around the Guadalajara – Lake Chapala are during the Day of the Dead
period, read Dale’s Day of the Dead Supplemental.
(Well connected after more than two decades in Mexico, Dale Hoyt Palfrey is a writer,
translator and public relations consultant. She lives in Ajijic, Jalisco.
Return to the DÃa de los Muertos Index
Day of the Dead Kites in Graveyards in Guatemala
Music video Western use of the Day of the Dead tradition:
6 Barriers of Intercultural Communication
1.The first barrier going to be discussed is high anxiety.
2. Second barrier to intercultural communication is assuming similarity instead of dissimilarity.
3. Ethnocentrism is a third issue on the barrier list
4. The fourth barrier is the language problems
5. the fifth is nonverbal misinterpretations barrier to communication.
6. The last barrier is going to be discussed is about two destructive terms: stereotypes and prejudices
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