Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a vibrant and culturally rich Mexican holiday that has captured the fascination of people around the world. Contrary to its name, this celebration is not a morbid or sad occasion. Instead, it is a colorful and lively tribute to the memories of those who have passed away.
In our classes, students will learn about this rich cultural tradition through picture books, photos, and conversations with their instructor. Some classes will create their own ofrenda, a decorated table in honor of loved ones who are no longer with us. Students are welcome to bring in a photo and/or memento in honor of someone special who has passed away. This creates a great opportunity to talk in simple terms with students about people who have been important to them and what they loved about them. This could apply to pets, grandparents, friends of friends, or even world figures that have influenced their lives for the better.
In this blog post, we will explore the significance and traditions of Día de los Muertos, shedding light on the beautiful way in which it honors the departed.
A Celebration of Life
Día de los Muertos, celebrated primarily on November 1st and 2nd, is a time when Mexicans come together to celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones. It is a fusion of indigenous traditions and Catholicism, resulting in a unique and spiritually significant holiday.
Ofrendas: The Altars of Remembrance
One of the central elements of Día de los Muertos is the creation of ofrendas, or altars. These are intricate, beautifully decorated displays set up in homes and cemeteries. Ofrendas typically include photographs of the departed, along with their favorite foods, drinks, and mementos. Marigold flowers, known as cempasúchil, are also a common adornment, as their vibrant orange and yellow colors are believed to guide the spirits of the dead back to the world of the living.
Sugar Skulls and Calacas
Calacas, or skeletons, are a prevalent motif during Día de los Muertos. People create sugar skulls (calaveras de azúcar) to represent the departed. These colorful and intricately designed candies are often personalized with the names of the deceased and serve as both offerings and decorations on ofrendas.
Calacas, which can be seen in various art forms, including paintings and sculptures, are not meant to be frightening. Instead, they symbolize the idea that death is a natural part of the human experience, and they are often depicted engaged in lively activities to emphasize this.
La Catrina: The Icon of Dia de los Muertos
One of the most recognizable symbols of Día de los Muertos is La Catrina, a tall, elegantly dressed skeleton woman. La Catrina was originally a satirical figure created by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, and she has since become an iconic representation of the holiday. She embodies the idea that death is a universal experience, regardless of one’s social or economic status.
On Día de los Muertos, families often gather at cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. It’s a communal experience where stories are shared, prayers are offered, and laughter often mingles with tears. It’s a time to remember the departed, express love, and find comfort in the collective sense of togetherness.
Día de los Muertos is a remarkable celebration of life and death. It’s a beautiful way to remember and honor those who have passed away while celebrating the continuity of the human experience. The colorful ofrendas, the artistic expressions of calacas, and the symbolism of La Catrina all contribute to a holiday that, while it might deal with death, is firmly rooted in the celebration of life and the enduring connections we have with our ancestors. So, if you ever have the opportunity to partake in Día de los Muertos, embrace it with open arms and an open heart, for it is a truly unique and uplifting cultural experience.
Lastly, there are lots of great activities around town that your family might be interested in participating in! Check out the PDX Parent website for kid-friendly events about Día de los Muertos: Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Celebrations in Portland, OR