What’s Down With Day of the Dead

(Feature photo by Linda Salas)

What’s Down With Day of the Dead

By Samantha Dammann


(photo courtesy of Gabbi Campos/ Al Jazeera http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2015/11/day-dead-151102120910799.html)

The Day of the Dead, “Día de los Muertos,” is a multi-day Mexican holiday, beginning on Oct. 31 and ending on Nov. 2.

In her book, “Latina and Latino Voices in Literature,” Frances Ann Day explains this iconic holiday: “On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.”

Not everyone celebrates this holiday in the same way, and traditions vary from region to region. Commonly, however, families make a trip to the cemetery where they clean and decorate the grave of their deceased relative. Families often leave marigolds at the graves because they are thought to attract the souls of the dead. Toys are sometimes left at the graves of children.

Families will often hold picnics at the gravesite, eating food and telling stories about their loved ones. Some people believe that the deceased consume the gifted food’s spiritual essence. In some regions, people will spend the entire night at their loved one’s gravesite, and in others, families will simply leave pillows and blankets so that the dead can rest.

In some regions of Mexico, the Day of the Dead has become similar to Halloween.

While this Mexican holiday can seem eerie at first, most celebrants view it as a joyful time. Families celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones, and have a sort of visit with them at the cemetery.

The Mexican holiday has made its way into American pop culture, and is often combined with Roman Catholic theology and Halloween.

“La Calavera Catrina” is a zinc etching made by José Guadalupe Posada. The etching depicts a skeleton woman dressed in early 20th Century European garments, and has become an icon for Day of the Dead. Many people will dress up in makeup and costumes as the male and female versions of “La Calavera Catrina” to celebrate.


(photo courtesy of wikipedia.org)

Sugar sculls are often made on this day as well.

While the Day of the Dead is an important part of many people’s culture and religion, as a Christian, it is important to be thoughtful about this holiday. Just like Halloween, this holiday has some dark beginnings. Traditional celebrants believe that the spirits of their loved ones are released to come and meet them during the Day of the Dead, and they believe that their offerings help their loved ones in the afterlife. These beliefs do not coincide with Christianity.

Whether you are planning to trick-or-treat, attend a party, or even build an altar for your loved one, think about what implications these actions have on your faith. Dressing up as “La Calavera Catrina” could be a way to celebrate the cultural importance of the Day of the Dead. Making a sugar scull could too. Just be aware that not everyone is celebrating this day solely for cultural purposes.