• Katlyn Selleck

Celebrating Día de Muertos

This year has been one for the books. Changes are occurring all around the world and this season, I thought we could all learn more in depth about our neighboring country's culture. While in America we are readying ourselves for our spooky holiday quickly approaching, in Mexico they are preparing to celebrate their well-known, beautiful holiday, Día de Muertos.

Day of the Dead is a celebration of passed loved ones’ lives. Held on November 1st and 2nd of every year, the people of Mexico honor their loved ones with a safe return back to this world with many beloved traditions. It is filled with color and laughter, traditional foods and drinks, and brings families together to celebrate life.

Altars (Ofrendas)

Inside the homes of families that celebrate the Day of the Dead, an altar is prepared for their departed loved ones. Each ofrenda is constructed differently, with many ranging in levels representing heaven, earth and the underworld, and with an assortment of offerings laid out to welcome their family members back with safe travels. A staple for each altar that typically sits centralized and atop the highest level is a photo of the remembered. Surrounding the photo is where the family will decorate with the dead’s personal belongings and numerous other important elements.

Marigolds, also known as the flower of the dead, are the chosen flower for Día de Muertos. Families commonly include the flower on their altars in vases or made into an archway to signify the opening of the passageway to this world and welcome the dead into their home. Mainly seen in yellow or orange, these flowers are said to attract and guide souls of the dead back to their families and radiate joy and peace when seen, adding to the celebration of the dead’s life.

Candles can be found on almost every altar representing each loved one being remembered, and the flickering lights help guide them home. This tradition varies depending on location in Mexico, however, it is widely common to include it on an ofrenda.

For the spirit’s soul to travel safely each and every year, it is rather important that the family places salt onto their family member’s altar. This can assure the dead will not be tainted and will be able to return home.

Now it wouldn’t be a celebration without food, would it? The Mexican culture knows how to make delicious foods and a traditional dish that is found on almost all shrines is pan de muerto (bread of the dead). This sweet bread is offered to represent the skull and bones of the dead and the cycle of life that we all experience, while water and fruit is also laid out as important offerings. It is also natural to display the deceased’s favorite food and drink so they will enjoy their favorite meal when they return.

Visiting Cemeteries

Outside the home, decorating loved one’s burial sites is considered a customary tradition. A popular town to visit is San Andrés Mixquic, where families adorn sites with marigolds and candles that light up the cemetery. Crosses are placed and shrines can be constructed next to the gravesite. Personal belongings are commonly brought and stories are told to remember the departed. Once the decorations are placed, prayers are said and then food is brought so families can enjoy a meal together with their lost ones.


In recent years, Mexico City has thrown a Día de Muertos parade. In celebration of the holiday, people from all around join the festivities by wearing colorful attire and paint skeleton and sugar skulls onto their face. La Catrina is a popular costume that many women dress as due to the well-known character, created by José Guadalupe Posada, being known as the symbol of death.

Smaller towns throughout Mexico additionally throw festivities in celebration of ancient traditions. Public altars are widely common to construct, surrounding the November 1st and 2nd holiday, as well as hanging papel picado, a traditional, thinly cut-out, colorful paper that’s hung along a string that brings color and happiness to festivities. The familiar sugar skulls are also available as sugary treats or used for decoration. People will write the name of the deceased on the skull to represent the departed and help celebrate their life.

Día de Muertos is not to be mistaken for a day of grieving, it is a day for celebration, for reconciliation with family and with life. It is a beloved holiday and a beautiful way to commemorate the people that have passed on. Although in America we are preparing for our festivities on October 31st, take a moment to cherish your loved ones, living and departed.

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