Celebrating Life on El Dia de Los Muertos

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Every year, I tell myself that ‘this is the year I’m going to make an altar’ to celebrate my departed loved ones for Dia de Los Muertos!  Have I done it yet?  No.  But I will say that, this holiday, more than any other, has helped me to realize that death is a natural part of life and, by embracing it, I have been able to think of my departed familia, friends, colleagues, and fam friends with a smile on my face celebrating what their life was and what they meant to me versus the scarier Halloween version of death, violence and monsters.

Now when I see these Dia de Los Muertos symbols, I am comforted instead of being scared…here is a small explanation what the event is all about…it’s a great tradition!

Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico and increasingly, in the US, and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.

The celebration takes place between October, 31, November 1, and November 2, in connection with the Christian tradition of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls day.

Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars which include:

Ofrendas:  Here’s a great example of my friend Eddie’s altar to Hip Hop:

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Calaveritas de Azucar/Sugar Skulls:   These are ‘calaveras’ made out of sugar, some of them have the loved one’s name on them.  You can find them around this time of the year at festivals and tiendas mexicanas.    Pan de Muerto is also very popular and, many times, you’ll find pan de muerto in shapes of bones, etc.

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La Calaca refers to the skeleton that is associated with La Muerte…you’ll find it mentioned especially in the Calaveritas de Poesia/Poetry.

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Marigolds – the official flowers of Dia de Los Muertos celebrations, flowers that celebrate the lives of the departed.  Dating back to Aztec times, it was believed that the scent of the flowers would help lead the dead back to their loved ones here on earth for the day.

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Masks are positive symbols which celebrate both death and rebirth!  Masks also serve to help one overcome the fear of death and love it that folks bring life to these masks and calaveras!  Here is shot of some of my fam at our Dia de Los Muertos/Halloween party last week!

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Calaveritas de Poesia/Poems about the departed — some of these are downright hilarious and, here’s one from my colega El Poeta de La Bahia – gracias por contribuir esta calavera Francisco:

Dicen que enamorarse mata…Yo me enamore de la calaca y hoy de su tumba no me saca!

(Translation:  It’s said that ‘love kills’…I fell in love with the ‘calaca’ and now I’m stuck in its tomb)

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Folks usually display the favorite foods, beverages, and possessions of the departed to celebrate their lives.  Altars are located in private homes, and some folks go straight to the cemetery, leave food at the graveside for their departed ones and they’ll straight-up picnic right there at the grave with music and everything.

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Feliz Dia de Los Muertos…remembering so many who are with us in spirit:  Mama Lupita, Grepi, Gma Hogan, Tios Mundo, Pascual, Willie, Al, Jesse, Ralph, Louie R, Prudencio;  Tias Adela, Jenny, Vera, Bea, Alvina, Sylvia Rosa:  Cousins Robert, Joe, Freddy, Jennifer T, Martin P, Markie, Joey E; Famfriends, Josefina, Frank G, Rosa, Gabe Sr, Socorro, Gabe Jr., Ralphie, Ralph L, Felipe, Ed S, Joey N, David N, Elvia, Emilia;  Godparents Susan, George, Marty, Mary, John, Marina.  Send love to your departed ones today and everyday…

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2 thoughts on “Celebrating Life on El Dia de Los Muertos

  1. I am a Xicana educator and freelance journalist who has been working on a Día de los Muertos curriculum with middle school kids for the past three years. Your casual writing style reminds me of that of Xicana writer Sandra Cisneros. I like how you go through the different elements of the Día de los Muertos traditions such as the ofrendas, the calaverita poems and the significance of the marigold flower. I really appreciate how you explain that the Día de los Muertos tradition is also a celebration of life, not just death. I would be curious to see you tackle the different elements that the ofrenda consists of and what they each represent in future Día de los Muertos entries. One tool that I use, that I would recommend is the bilingual children’s rhyming book Rosita y Conchita that talks about the traditions and covers the elements of the ofrenda.

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