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Paper: Living with the Stars on Day of the Dead
Volume: 531, ASP2020: Embracing the Future: Astronomy Teaching and Public Engagement
Page: 391
Authors: Hawkins, I.
Abstract: Equinoxes and solstices are familiar astronomical markers of the seasons, but the cross-quarter days—the four half-way points in between—are less commonly considered. In the Northern Hemisphere, the cross-quarter day between the September equinox and the December solstice occurs during the time of harvest and the festivities of Halloween and Day of the Dead. In many countries in Latin America, Day of the Dead is celebrated in the context of Catholic traditions. However, in areas with large native populations, the custom of welcoming and caring for the souls of the ancestors has its roots in indigenous worldviews and astronomy. Within the tropics, indigenous people in Mesoamerica and the Andes have observed and recorded two important astronomical events, the zenith and nadir passages of the Sun, which are celebrated in the context of two cultural and religious festivities, Day of the Holy Cross and Day of the Dead. At Northern and Southern Hemisphere tropical latitudes where zenith and nadir coincide with cross-quarter days, cultural traditions are strongest. In addition to solar events, the astronomical culmination of distinctive stellar objects such as the Pleiades star cluster in November is culturally connected to Day of the Dead, when the ancestors return to visit the realm of the living. We present the meaning of Day of the Dead and other festivities from astronomical and cultural perspectives.
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