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by EVELYN WONG
Bringing friends and family members closer together in memory of their ancestors, Dia de los Muertos honors the lives of the deceased through lively festivities and other rituals.
Commonly acknowledged throughout the Latin American world, Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” was first celebrated in Mexico during the 16th century. According to dayofthedeadsf.org, it began as a custom that combined indigenous Aztec rituals with Catholicism, which was brought to their society by the Spanish conquistadores.
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated annually on Nov. 1 and 2, during which many believe the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of the dead are able to reunite with their families, according to azcentral.com. The event coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, both Catholic holidays.
“Dia de los Muertos is important to my family because we believe that our past family ancestors should be honored as the years pass by,” said Jasmine Morales, sophomore. “On Nov. 1 we honor the spirits of the children, while on Nov. 2 we honor the older spirits.”
Central to the celebrations of Dia de los Muertos is the belief that death is a natural part of life and should, therefore, be embraced rather than dreaded, according to nationalgeographic.com. Believing that the deceased would feel insulted by mourning, many celebrate the spirits of their loved ones with large parties, including food, drinks and activities that the dead enjoyed during their lifetime.
“In one form or another, each culture has certain ways in which they approach death,” said Enrique Sigala, Spanish teacher. “In Mexico, we believe that we are all born and will all die eventually. We embrace death earlier in our lives; since it will come sooner or later, we might as well befriend it.”
According to niu.edu, those who recognize Dia de los Muertos create altars as a way to honor departed souls. Next to these altars are ofrendas, or “offerings,” which include food such as tamales and pan de muertos, candles, incense, yellow marigolds known as cempazuchitl and a picture of their deceased family member.
“During Dia de los Muertos, my grandma prepares traditional Mexican food, such as tamales, depending on what each of our past family members liked to eat when they were alive,” said Samantha Gonzalez, junior. “My family in Mexico also makes an altar for the deceased to honor them.”
In addition, family members often clean and decorate the graves of their deceased loved ones with flowers, earth and candles.
Primary symbols associated with Dia de los Muertos are the calacas and calaveras, which are “skeletons” and “skulls,” respectively. They are depicted in sweets as well as parade masks and dolls. Unlike many iconic depictions of these symbols as morbid figures, the calacas and calaveras of Dia de los Muertos are portrayed as enjoying life to its fullest, smiling and wearing colorful traditional clothing.
Living alongside la muerte as a close friend rather than an enemy, the natives of the Spanish-speaking world have initiated a centuries-long celebration honoring the spirits of the past. Through these traditional festivities, their descendants have demonstrated that, although loved ones may come and go, Dia de los Muertos may never die.