Dia de Los Muertos
What is Dia de los Muertos? Also known as Day of the Dead, it is a holiday celebrated the night of Oct. 31st through Nov. 2nd and throughout many parts of Central America, but predominantly in Mexico. This holiday celebrates life and death and shows respect to family members that have passed on. It is a time where we exchange grieving for festivities and happiness.
It is a celebration that reunites the living and dead, which is done by constructing an ofrenda or an offering. Once the ofrenda (an altar) is constructed, it is decorated by many beautiful marigold flowers that represent the fragility of life. These flowers also help guide the spirits of those who have passed back to the living family. They are said to be the guiding flowers because of their vibrant colors, strong smell, and the significance of the flower.
Marigolds are not the only items that go on an ofrenda, but also favorite foods and drinks of the loved ones so that they may be welcomed back respectfully for their visit. It is also to encourage the visits from the land of the dead and welcome the souls into the celebration. It is understood as sharing a meal with your loved one as you would when they were alive.
There are different parts of the celebration and Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the little angels) starts the holiday at midnight on Nov 1st. The belief is that little children are reunited with their living families for 24 hours and the ofrenda is filled with snacks, toys, and a sugar skull with the child's name on it. At midnight on Nov. 2nd the holiday shifts to honor the lives of the departed adults and the ofrenda also shifts to represent an adult, which means setting out tequila, pan de muerto (sweet bread), and jars of Atole (sweet drink). In my case, my grandfather who passed away 4 years ago, is who I remember now and celebrate. At noon, on Nov. 2nd, the biggest part of the celebration happens. If I was currently in Mexico, I would have painted my face in skull makeup and taken to the streets to join the parades and dances. I would also have a chance to go and decorate my grandfather's grave and make sure it stays clean and neat.
Other wonderful parts of the celebration are done more privately such as praying over our loved ones' trip to the world of the living and back to the world of the dead. We eat dinner together and become vulnerable in a bittersweet evening and remember how much our loved ones meant to us. My family and I reflect on this holiday every year as it allows us to feel more connected to Mexico and our home town.
My experience itself has been a journey. I was always told not to be sad because that’s not what our friends and family would have wanted. At first it was a bit of a struggle and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be sad, but as I came to learn the tradition more over the years it got better. I can say now with confidence that I am happy on these days that let me be in touch with my culture and family more. It is a day full of celebration that I don’t take for granted and never plan to. If anything, the saddest part is not being able to be home with the family since I am in school. Although that might be the case, I personally believe that my grandfather is always here with me and watching over me. He is here wishing me good luck and telling me to continue moving forward as he did when he was in the living world. This is truly a happy yet bittersweet holiday that allows me to not only reflect, but be present in the moment and with my family.