Celebrating Death On Día De Los Muertos
November 2, 2013

Celebrating Death On Dia De Los Muertos

Feliz Día de los Muertos! On November 1 and 2 of every year, people around the world celebrate this Mexican holiday. As Holiday Insights explains, “Translated to English, this is “The Day of the Dead”. In actuality, Dia De Los Muertos is not one, but two days spent in honor of the dead. The first day celebrates infants and children who have died. This is a group that is believed to have a special place in heaven, and are referred to as “Angelitos” or little angels. The second day is in honor of adults who have passed away.”

This day is one to celebrate our ancestors, those recently passed and those long gone. In America we tend to shy away from talking about death and the dead. In fact, as I wrote, we tend to use language like passed instead of dead. On another side, Día de los Muertos is a time to embrace our loved ones and their memory. It originates from the Aztec Indians according to Holiday Insights. “Dia De Los Muertos was celebrated in late July and early August by Aztec Indians for thousands of years. When the Spaniards conquered Mexico in the 1500’s, they looked upon this celebration as a pagan ritual. In an effort to eliminate it, they moved it to the date of All Saints and All Souls Day in November. The effort failed, and the Aztecs along with all Mexicans continue to celebrate the holiday.”

I grew up in New Mexico and celebrated this holiday often with friends. Then when I moved to Oklahoma and studied the Spanish language and culture in school, I absolutely fell in love with this holiday. It makes death more hopeful, less sad. It is a day to remember and love not to mourn and depress. People eat and decorate and remember. Families will prepare beloved foods from their dead loved ones, make Pan de Muertos, or “Bread of the Dead” (sometimes jokingly translated as Dead Bread), and set out the mementos of their dead loved ones—just a few of their favorite things.

Plus, the grave plot is decorated as well. In an effort to better inform readers, The Huffington Post published an article about this holiday answering five questions that people might be too afraid to ask about Día de los Muertos:

  1. What’s the difference between Día de los Muertos and Halloween?
  2. Wait, it’s a two-day Holiday?
  3. How do you celebrate the dead?
  4. Would you have to go to Mexico to see these celebrations?
  5. What’s up with the skulls?

The article has some great information about each of these. First of all, the difference between Día de los Muertos and Halloween is that Día de los Muertos celebrates death, more particularly the deceased, while Halloween makes death fearful. It is two days because it is parallel to All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. Originally, the Aztec’s celebrated this event for a month, but the Spanish Conquistadores abbreviated it once they turned Mexico Catholic.

As I stated earlier, the celebration comes by eating, decorating, and remembering. As The Huffington Post explains, “Those who celebrate Día de los Muertos will usually put up altars honoring those members of the family who have passed away. They decorate the altars with candles, sugar skulls, marigolds, food, beverages and clothes. These offerings, or “ofrendas,” are gifts for the dead and are usually a combination of his or her favorite things.” And these celebrations take place all over the world not just in Mexico although the holiday is most popular in Mexico and now the US due to its growing population of Mexican immigrant and immigrant descendants.

And just what is up with the skulls? Well, the origins trace way, way back to pre-Hispanic era when skulls were kept as trophies and used during rituals. Plus, it makes sense that skulls would symbolize a day honoring and celebrating the dead.

Día de los Muertos is a holiday that many do not often think about, but it is a holiday that changed my life. It reminds me that death should not be feared, should not be hated, and should not be ignored. Our dead loved ones deserve time to be remembered and celebrated. I will definitely take time to celebrate my dad during Día de los Muertos. But I will also celebrate my dead loved ones daily. This, I think, is the most important lesson I learned from Día de los Muertos. Celebration..not fear.

Image Credit: cvalle / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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