Thursday, October 19, 2017

Day of the Dead #6: The Legend of the Cempasúchil Flower

Frida in Cempasúchils
One of the most important symbols of the Day of the Dead ceremony is the abundance of brilliant orange flowers ... cempasúchil or marigolds.

The color and smell are intended to guide the path of the ancestors to their altars. The fragility of flowers is also a symbol of life. 
On my journey to find out more about this ceremony, I met Lorena at La Bella Vida (see below) and she told me about the legend behind the flowers.

 Once upon a time ..

there were two young Aztecs, Xóchitl and Huitzilin, who were friends as children and lovers when they grew up. One of their favorite activities was hiking to the top of a near mountain where they would offer flowers to the Sun god TonatiuhThe god seemed to appreciate their offering and would smile from the sky with his warm rays. 

On a particularly beautiful day at the top of the mountain, they swore their love would last forever. However, war broke out and the lovers were separated as Huitzilin went off to fight. Soon the news came that death had separated the lovers and Xóchitl’s heart was broken and her world shattered into pieces.

She decided to walk one last time to the top of the mountain and implore the sun god  Tonatiuh, to somehow join her with her love Huitzilin. The sun, moved by her prayers, threw a ray that gently touched the young girl’s cheek. Instantly she turned into a beautiful flower of fiery colors as intense as the rays of the sun. 
Huitzilin, the hummingbird
Suddenly a hummingbird buzzed around the beautiful flower and lovingly touched its center with its beak.It was Huitzilin that was reborn as a handsome hummingbird. The flower gently opened its 20 petals, filling the air with a mysterious and lovely scent.

The sun god had granted them eternal togetherness as long as cempasúchil (marigolds) flowers and hummingbirds existed on earth. Thus, the cempasúchil came to be the Day of the Dead flower.

For what it's worth ...

Chickens and egg yolks in Mexico are both a rich, yellow-orange. Why? They feed them marigolds, not only for the color, but because marigolds are rich in antioxidants.

Source: The legend of the Day of the Dead lovers comes from Inside Mexico.
Special thanks to Lorena at La Bella Vista (Constitucion #6, Ajijic) for telling me about the lover's story of the marigold and the hummingbird.  La Bella Vista is a lovely gift store and offers a good variety of Day of the Dead items and arts and crafts from around the world. They will be open on November 2nd. They will have an altar and offer talks and snacks about the day around 4pm.
Day of the Dead items at La Bella Vida


  1. So informative in many ways, now I can answer people when they ask about the chickens colour. Folk lore is so fascinating.

  2. Just yesterday as I walked through the jardin here in SMA, there was a Scottie dog with a necklace of beautiful big marigolds. I wish I had stopped and photographed the scene. But, even now it makes me smile. BTW, marigolds don't grow over here so and the chickens have that orange color so I doubt that the idea that they are fed marigolds might not be so.....

    1. In the US, huge fields of marigolds are raised just for the chicken feed. My guess is, if you've got rich orange yolks, they're getting marigolds. But, there are many things in the world I don't understand so put bets on it. ;-)

  3. What a fascinating folktale. Thank you for sharing it Joyce -- I love getting to know Mexico through your eyes and stories and art.

  4. Thanks, Louise ... I am loving getting to know it also.

  5. I just came across this post while looking up images of Cempasúchitl on Google. I love the art pieces you've included here so much -- and the story is beautiful. Thank you, Joyce. You've brought beauty to a rough time.