By #AerieREAL Changemakers Taylor Days, Sahara Powell, and Ambika Rajyagor

Something about the crisp morning air, falling leaves, and cozy knitwear that Autumn brings encourages us to be around our loved ones and engage in fun seasonal activities. An important day of the season that inspires large celebrations filled with food, costumes, art, music, and commemoration of those who have passed on is called Dia de Los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead.

Dia de Los Muertos is a 2-day long Mexican holiday in which friends and families gather together during the one time of year when they can reunite with the souls of their deceased loved ones.

We’d either have a big party at one of my aunt’s houses or, as I got older, I would go to a local festival to celebrate the holiday with my friends and the local community.

Sahara Powell

History

The celebration of Dia de Los Muertos traces its roots back to over 3,000 years ago to the Aztecs and other Nahua people residing in central Mexico. In these cultures, death was an intrinsic part of life and those who had passed on were still very much loved and valued through celebrations, stories in remembrance, offerings, and altars. Nowadays, there are countless practices and activities that those who celebrate the holiday can engage in!

In my family, we’ve always opted to celebrate the holiday on November 2nd. While I always knew that Day of the Dead was a day spent honoring and remembering those who have passed away, it wasn’t until I was older that I learned the origins of the holiday.

Sahara Powell

Traditions

The center of every Day of the Dead celebration is the ofrenda, known in English as an altar with offerings. Ofrendas are made by the loved ones of the departed and are typically placed in their homes and/or at the location of the individual’s final resting place. The altars are filled with papel picados (colorful paper tissue decorations), and other items of personal significance to them. 

When creating my ofrendas, I often put framed photos of my grandmother and grandfather who have passed away, as well as some of their favorite things. For my grandfather, Johnnie, I usually place a paper airplane, as he was an airman of the U.S. Air Force, and for my grandmother, Maria, a tube of fire-engine red lipstick, because she never left the house without it!

Sahara Powell

Ofrendas are also often adorned with the traditional Day of the Dead Flower, Marigolds. These delightfully bright florals give off a sweet aroma, and according to custom, their petals are arranged into a path that guides the dead back to their families here on Earth.

Another popular Dia de Los Muertos tradition is the incorporation of skeletons and skulls. La Catrina is one of the most popular symbols of this holiday, and she is often depicted as a distinguished, skeletal woman, so as to bring a sense of elegance to the celebrations. 

In addition to La Catrina, sugar skulls (Calaveras) can also be seen throughout the day. Sugar skulls are sweet treats that are decorated to resemble the departed, and are often made out of sugar or chocolate! Speaking of chocolate, the traditional snacks and meals surrounding the Day of the Dead could be considered one of the best parts of the holiday!

The most popular dish, and one of my personal favorites, is Pan de Muertos, a Mexican sweet bread that tastes even more delicious when enjoyed at night, with a hot cup of café or champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate). 

Sahara Powell

For centuries, Dia de Los Muertos has been one of the most beautifully celebrated holidays of Autumn. The historical significance and cultural impact of this day are important reasons why so many continue to commemorate these beloved traditions. While everyone has their own unique way of celebrating the Day of the Dead, the common theme is the shared love and appreciation for those who have been in our lives.

Feliz Día de los Muertos!

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Comments

  1. Ramona Powell

    Love the article o Dia de los Muertos.

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