El Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday annually, starting on November 1 and ends on November 2. The purpose of the holiday is to honor and remember family members who have passed away. These days are to celebrate the dead instead of mourning them. Día de Los Angelitos (Day of the little angels) starts the holiday on November 1, where all deceased children’s spirits are believed to be reunited with their families for 24 hours. November 2 is to celebrate all the deceased.
Alters are a traditional representation of the Day of the Dead. Families usually go to cemeteries or stay home to build altars containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos of the departed. The items gathered by their loved ones are called “ofrendas.” The “ofrendas” can be placed in the grave or on the altar. They are put there to encourage visits by the souls. The belief is that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them when they come to visit.
Calaveras, or sugar skulls, are everywhere during Day of the Dead. They are decorative skulls handmade of sugar or clay. They take many forms, such as sugar candies, clay decorations, and face painting. Sugar skulls are decorated and placed on “ofrendas” of loved ones.
“La Flor De Muerto” is a flower that symbolizes the Day of the Dead. It is a Marigold flower or Cempasuchil. The flower is thought to attract the souls of the loved ones to the “ofrendas.” The flower’s color is bright yellow, which guides the souls from their grave to the family home if the altar is placed there. Also, pathways are made with the petals of the flowers to guide the spirits to their home.
The Mustang Newspaper interviewed Mario Alvarez to get a better perspective on what is celebrated on the Day of the Dead.
Mario Alvarez is from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, in Mexico. He was first studying in ITSON in the state of Sonora, then transferred to WNMU. Alvarez is currently in his senior year working to major in chemistry and a minor in cellular and molecular biology.
Q: What does the Day of the Dead mean to you?
A: It means remembering those who are no longer with us, appreciating what we lived with them, and hoping they are resting in peace.
Q: What are some traditions celebrated on the Day of the Dead? Is there any tradition that is special to you?
A: When I was in Mochis, every year, my grandmother and cousins from my dad’s side, along with my brother, used to go to the cemetery to visit and bring cempasuchil flowers and other types of flowers to my grandmother’s parents and my father’s uncle. We prayed for them, and my grandmother shared with us some stories about them and about relatives who are no longer with us.
Q: What are some ways that the holiday is celebrated differently in Mexico than in the United States?
We make offerings in our homes, schools, and workplaces with food, sweets, confetti, precious objects that belong to them, and cempasuchil flowers for our deceased. Some children go out trick or treating with or without costumes, but they are hardly seen. Other things that are seen are children and adolescents making pranks to the houses on October 31. For us, the dead return to this world to share the holiday with us, and the dead in Halloween are believed to return to scare the living. This celebration originated 3000 years ago and was modified by the Spanish to make it more Catholic. On this day, we clean up the graves of our deceased to prepare it for them. The altar is an offering for the dead, not for worship, and the Cempasuchil is used to guide the spirits back home. A dog is usually placed in the offering to resemble Xoloitzcuintles, which was considered to accompany the dead on their journey through the afterlife.
“We never bury the dead, son. We take them with us. It’s the price of living.”
– Jose Molina and Mark Goffman, “Sleepy Hollow”