Day of the Dead tradition kept alive
On Nov. 2, the streets of Mexico are filled with children dressed up as skeletons and men and women with their faces intricately painted, dancing to the tunes of the mariachis.
“Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico where family and friends gather to pray for and remember loved ones who have died,” Santiago Solis, senior director of the Center for Student Diversity, said.
It’s a tradition that takes place every year on this day since the Spaniards brought Catholicism to Mexico and conquered the Aztecs in 1521, making the Mexican celebration more unique due to the Aztec influence.
The celebration lasts a weekend. On Nov. 1, Mexicans remember and honor the children who have died, which is often called “Dia de los Santos Inocentes,” or Day of the Innocent Saints. Then on the next day, the lives of deceased family members are honored. Family and friends visit their graves in the cemeteries and build altars in their home presenting gifts of sugar skulls, flowers, food and other possessions. Graphic design major Angelica Trevizo Frias, who was born in Mexico, said that the holiday is a largely cultural celebration.
“It may be important to my culture because most Mexicans are Roman Catholic, and All Saints Day is also celebrated on Nov.1…Saints are those we believe are in heaven,” Trevizo Frias said.
Even though Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday, Solis said that those who celebrate it bring their traditions to the U.S.
“As a college student at UC Berkeley, my three housemates and I would celebrate by building a colorful altar with flowers, candles, and photographs and inviting friends over for dinner,” Solis said.
In the U.S., places where there is a large Mexican population, have parades for the Day of the Dead and partake in the tradition of the altar, also called “la ofrenda,” continues to be very important to each family, or individual, who celebrates.
“The main idea is to make an offering. First to give of one’s time and resources to create an altar in memory of the dead and, second, to take the hood and other items placed on the altar after the celebration is complete and share them with neighbors or others who may be more needy,” professor Lea Ramsdell said.
Some people in the U.S. view the holiday as a bit too morbid or grounded in superstition. But Trevizo Frias said that the celebration is about more than just superstition.
“I think it’s a great way to keep the story of one’s family ancestors alive,” she said.
Ramsdell also keeps the holiday alive, even though she lives in Baltimore.
“I usually make an altar at home to commemorate my grandparents and my father. In Baltimore, I know a couple of people who [emigrated] from Mexico who celebrate it. When I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, many people celebrated by building altars in their homes, in community center and in the art museum,” Ramsdell said.
Though seeing someone with their face painted, as a skeleton may seem like a typical American Halloween activity, it is one of the unique traditions that people from Mexico use to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
“This holiday is important because it’s a reminder of our mortality. It celebrates the circle of life and our perpetual interconnectivity,” Solis said.
–Danielle Frater contributed to this article