The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a popular Mexican celebration that allows
family and friends to remember loved ones who have passed away. It is said that the spirits of the dead return to visit their families on Oct. 31 and leave on Nov. 2. For those who participate in this celebration, death is seen as another stage after life, and it isn’t something that people fear. The coming of our deceased loved one’s souls are celebrated and welcomed.
To honor and celebrate their loved ones, families typically create ofrendas (altars) that
are filled with their loved one’s favorite foods as well as flowers, candles, pan de muerto, sugar skulls and, most importantly, pictures of their loved ones. This long-lived tradition is probably the most important aspect of the day, as it serves to welcome the spirits home and show them that they haven’t been forgotten.
Families typically create and display the altars in their homes and decorate them with
bright, festive colors. Altars may even display representations of hobbies that deceased loved ones enjoyed in their life. However, while food and symbolic items are placed on the ofrendas, the four essential elements of nature (earth, wind, water and fire) must always be included. Earth is typically represented through dried fruits or objects from the harvest season— such as rich soil. Wind is presented through papel picado (artistically cut paper), which is used to decorate the alter. Water is also included so that souls may replenish their thirst after their long journey home. Lastly, fire is represented by candles as to light the way for souls to find their way home.
The movie “Coco” released in 2017, shed light on Day of the Dead and made it more
relatable for many of us. The movie is based on a young boy named Miguel who accidentally finds himself in the Land of the Dead and uses the help of his great-great-grandfather to return home. The opening scene portrays Miguel and his family preparing offerings for Día de los Muertos in remembrance of their ancestors who have passed away. The relationship that we have with the dead is a key theme introduced to us as “the final death.”
Throughout the movie we slowly learn that a person who passed away can only continue living in the beautiful Land of the Dead if there is someone to remember them in the Land of the Living. If there is no one left to remember them, the person disappears into the abyss of nothingness.
This concept of the “final death” that is introduced to us is drawn from traditional
Mexican ideas that there are “three deaths” that a person experiences. The “first death” is simply a physical one when an individual’s body dies. The “second death” is one that has a significant relationship with nature in that the body is seen as being laid to rest in the earth. Lastly, the “third death” is the one introduced to us as “the final death” because it’s the moment when all memory of an individual fades. The movie did a great job at accurately representing the rich Mexican culture found in this significant day of Día de los Muertos. It not only taught us some rich cultural history, but pulled at our heart strings and helped us appreciate our family a little more.
As for my family and me, Día de los Muertos does serve as a reminder for us to never
forget our loved ones who have passed away before or during our lifetime. Although I was born after my grandmother on my dad’s side passed away, pictures and stories do help me to celebrate and remember her life. Family is so important to me and embracing my Hispanic culture and participating in events such as Day of the Dead helps me to appreciate my loved ones even more.
I love when my family and I come together to look at old photographs of our deceased
relatives and when we take a trip to their graves to bring them flowers or other decorations. I hope that after reading this you understand a little more about Día de los Muertos and that maybe you and your family can create an ofrenda of your own.