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  • Daniella Vega

What Is Día de los Muertos?

In the U.S., many people (including myself) consider the last three months of the year to be the most eventful; from October to December, a holiday almost always happens at the turn of every week. Within the last few years, an ongoing joke has always held: as soon as Halloween ends, it immediately becomes time for winter festivities. However, I think one Latino celebration between these two events should receive greater recognition: Día de los Muertos—Day of the Dead.


Altar with candles, skulls, and flowers

Photo from Cavan Images


Día de los Muertos, known as the "Day of the Dead" in English, is said to have begun in Mexico around the Aztec period, and traditions of this celebration were eventually combined with Catholicism when the Spanish colonized the area. This holiday typically is celebrated from November 1st to the 2nd, although some even celebrate on October 31st as well. Día de los Muertos commemorates the lives of those who are no longer with us and is a tribute to their spirits.


Calaveras, also known as sugar skulls, are a popular custom associated with Día de los Muertos, originating from old Mesoamerican cultures where they were used as offerings to the gods. In modern times, Calaveras have gained popularity in mass culture, featured in clothing and makeup trends. The colorful embellishments of flowers and fun designs are a common feature of these characters, which are always depicted as joyous and bright, never scary. The popularity of Calaveras has been further boosted by their appearance in movies like The Book of Life and Coco, which have also brought Day of the Dead celebrations into mainstream culture.


Woman with skull makeup smiling

Photo from FG Trade Latin


The most notable tradition from Día de los Muertos, however, is the placement of la ofrenda, which literally translates to "the offering" in English. The ofrenda itself is an altar, usually dedicated to one person who has passed. Typically, many items can be found on just a single ofrenda, which can include cuisines like pan de muerto ("bread of the dead", a sweet dessert to provide to ancestors), some of the deceased's old items, and marigold flowers (known as cempasúchil). The warmth and brightness of the ofrenda are said to welcome the spirits of the dead during the celebration and honor their lives. No two altars are alike, as each family will spend time making the ofrenda for their ancestor(s) unique.


Remembering our late loved ones may be a difficult time for some, but Día de los Muertos is such a great way to allow for the memories of them to live on. It is perfect for friends and families alike to come together and celebrate those who are no longer here, but will forever be in the hearts of many. Día de los Muertos is a beautiful and remarkable holiday that deserves more recognition and appreciation not just in the Latino community, but around the world. It serves as a reminder that death does not have to be a somber occasion, but a celebration of happiness and honor.


 

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