Imagine: skulls, skeletons, decorations, costumes, festivals, and food. It’s not Halloween, but Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Unlike Halloween with its spooky concepts, Day of the Dead, which is on November 1-2, is about celebrating and honoring the lives of lost loved ones. The traditions and elements of Day of the Dead are authentic, unique, fun, and date back to more than 3,000 years ago.
The first thing that may come to mind when talking about Day of the Dead is the calavera or skull. In the 15th century, the Aztecs used to worship the Goddess Mictecacihuatl, who was the ruler of the afterlife. She was represented by decorated skeleton figurines made out of clay. In the 17th century, Aztecs switched to using a special paste made of sugar, alfeñique, to create the figurines. This later gave headway into what we know today as sugar skulls which people use to decorate homemade altars and can be eaten as well.
Who is La Catrina?
The most known figurine of Day of the Dead is La Catrina, a skeleton drawn with a hat that was created in the early 1900s by José Guadalupe Posada. Many people had the idea to dress their skeletons to look like the wealthy Europeans of that era. This drawing was a way to remind people to be themselves and to stop trying to be something that they weren’t.
There are numerous traditions that evolve around Day of the Dead. One of the most popular and well known traditions is making an ofrenda, or altar, for the loved ones who have passed away. The altar is decorated with flowers, specifically marigolds, food, and pictures. The idea behind the altar is that when the person passes away, their soul goes through seven difficult challenges before they can eternally rest. The altar is a way for the living to help the dead on this difficult journey.
“There is a connection that one can feel to the person who has passed, as you recall their likes and preferences, and try to represent them in their altar,” said Spanish teacher, Mrs. Heredia.
There is an abundance of unique meals made on Day of the Dead besides the well known sugar skull cookies. There’s posole, sopa, and enchiladas, to name a few. A lot of meals are made based on the favorites of the loved ones who passed, so the families feel more connected to the dead when enjoying the meal. There’s also “bread of the dead,” or “pan de muerto” which is a sweet bread baked especially on Day of the Dead.
Overall, Day of the Dead is a cherished holiday worth knowing and learning about. Celebrating and dedicating a day to celebrate the lives of lost loved ones is a sweet and wholesome tradition. It’s an honor to be invited to celebrate this holiday, and certainly suitable for all.
“It’s important to me because I get to remember loved ones, even if I’ve never met them before. It shows my ancestry and those who paved the path for me today,” said 11th grader, Dazli Rosario.