This time of year has always fascinated me. I love the bright vibrant colors, the sugar skulls, and marigolds, just to name a few things. While some may think I am speaking of Halloween because of the sugar skulls, I am thinking of Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead -the celebration of reuniting the dead and the living. It is a way to honor those that we have lost and remember them.
While most people may know this as a Mexican holiday around Halloween, it is celebrated in many Latin and non-Latin countries spanning from Brazil to the Philippines. It is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, and ties back to the Aztecs of Mexico, and Catholicism from the Spanish Conquistadors. It is also known as All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. Halloween on the other hand, is the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, where people wear costumes and have bonfires to protect them from ghosts.
Day of the Dead was first introduced to me by my Filipina mom that studied abroad in Mexico, and later became a high school Spanish teacher. She loved incorporating the many different cultures in her classroom along with the language. I also learned about it in my own Spanish classes in middle school and high school. To me, it is a beautiful way to honor, remember, and cherish the time that we had with the deceased. Traditionally, there is a gathering time in the cemetery, where the loved ones are buried. Time is spent cleaning the gravesite, then adorning them with candles and flowers. There is usually festive music being played as well, and it is a time to celebrate the life of the deceased.
What is Needed for the Celebration
Essential components of the tradition are creating an ofrenda, also known as an altar. It must be placed by October 31st to allow the spirits to come visit. The ofrenda is made up of four elements: fire, by use of candles; wind, by use of papel picado, also known as perforated paper with a photo of the deceased; earth by use of favorite foods and pan de muerto, also known as bread of the dead; and water. Marigolds and copal, also known as incense, are used as beacons to guide the souls. Calavaras, or skulls are laid out to represent the departed loved ones. They are ornate; decorated with colorful glitter, paint, and their name. Some of the skulls, are made from sugar, and can be eaten.
Lastly, La Catrina is the most noticeable figure of Día de los Muertos. She is a female skeleton that wears an elegant dress with a hat and feathers. Her origin was from the Aztecs, who worshipped the goddess of death. She was then brought to life by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. She exemplifies that death is not to be feared, but rather to celebrate life. The Disney movie Coco is a beautiful story of the Mexican representation of Día de los Muertos, along with some twists and turns to show how important family can be.
For more information on Día de los Muertos, please check out: The History of Day of the Dead
This blog was contributed and written by Gilchrist Clinical Counselor, Alexandra (Allie) Wolfing, MSW, LMSW