On November 1 and 2, Hispanic families will be celebrating Dia de Los Muertos, a traditional annual holiday. Families honor their deceased loved ones by welcoming back the souls for a reunion with food, drink, and celebration. This holiday is the perfect opportunity to learn about rich cultural history and celebratory traditions to decorate your altar. We’ll show you great items to inspire you to build an ofrenda (alter offering). Get ready for the festivities!
Dia del los Muertos Origin
While the festivity is celebrated differently in each region of Mexico, it has its roots in Indigenous pre-Hispanic tradition. Dia de los Muertos originates more than 3,000 years ago in pre-Columbia Mesoamerica where the Indigenous tribes practiced rituals honoring the dead. According to Aztec custom, after a person passes away, they begin their journey to the afterlife. In efforts to help their deceased on their journey, relatives placed food and drink on altars. The Aztecs believed death to be an integral part of life representing the start of a new life, and thus Dia de Los Muertos symbolized the important relationship between life and death. A mix of influences from Indigenous traditions and Catholic traditions have cultivated this celebration into the one we are most familiar with today. (https://www.mexicanmuseum.org/dia-de-los-muertos) https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2021-10-25/heres-the-story-behind-dia-de-muertos-altars-and-how-you-can-build-one
How it’s celebrated
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 2nd when families welcome the spirits of the dead’s return home to spend time with their relatives through devotional rituals. While the festivities differ, the universal purpose of the holiday is to help connect families to their ancestors and celebrate their memory. One way of doing this is with ofrendas and an altar. Ofrendas are created by the family to welcome and honor the temporary return to the world of the living. Each family has a different way of decorating these altars but the traditional elements which include yellow marigolds known as cempazúchitl, candles or velas to light their passage home, photos of the deceased ones, papel picado or cut tissue paper designs, skulls or calaveras, and offerings of food and drink for the dead to enjoy. Items that were important to the deceased when they were alive are placed on the altar as well. For example, my family places a cup of café de olla, pan de muerto, and sunflowers for my abuelita since they were her favorites and remind us most of her. The imagery of skulls or calaveras and skeletons, costumes, and body paint are important elements of this holiday as well. The skulls and skeletons serve as a reminder that death is an integral part of life and one day they too will be skeletons.
How to make your own Dia de los Muertos outfit and ofrenda inspiration
If you’re considering making an ofrenda for someone or celebrating the holiday with your friends and family, our Goodwill San Ysidro Retail Store can help! This location has curated a vast array of everything and anything you may need to make an ofrenda or design a festive costume such as painted skulls, artificial flowers, and candles. When it comes to building an ofrenda, there is no “wrong” way, however, there are elements that should be considered such as flowers, candles, sugar skulls, and memorial items. A coffee mug, sunflower décor, and candles are on my thrift list next time I go to Goodwill. With its colorful decorations, familial warmth, and joyous ambiance, Dia de los Muertos provides an opportunity to process and keep the memory of loved ones alive.
History.com Editors. “Day of the Dead (Día De Los Muertos).” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 30 Oct. 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/day-of-the-dead.
Journey Mexico. “Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico.” Journey Mexico, https://www.journeymexico.com/blog/dia-de-los-muertos-in-mexico.
Mexican Museum Education Team . “Dia De Los Muertos.” The Mexican Museum, https://www.mexicanmuseum.org/dia-de-los-muertos.
Roy, Jessica, and Karen Garcia. “Anyone Can Make a Día De Muertos Altar. Here’s How.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 25 Oct. 2021, https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2021-10-25/heres-the-story-behind-dia-de-muertos-altars-and-how-you-can-build-one.