¿Qué es Día de los Muertos?

Jett Houtz


Historia (History) 

    Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Latin American holiday that usually takes place on November 1st and 2nd. It is attended by family and friends who gather to pay respects and remember those who have passed. They do so by creating altars decorated with candy skulls, cempasuchil/flor de muertos, pan de muerto, papel picado, and other various items. It’s believed that these offerings encourage visits from the land of the dead as the departed souls hear their prayers, smell foods, and join in celebration. It’s a holiday celebrating death and life. Dia de los Muertos is unlike any holiday with mourning being exchanged as a celebration. 

    Before the celebration of  Dia de los Muertos, the Aztecs used skulls to honor the dead. Skulls, such as those once found on Aztec temples, have remained a key symbol in a tradition that has lasted more than six centuries in the annual celebration to honor and commune with those who have passed on. However, after the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire in the 16th century, the Catholic Church shifted indigenous celebrations and rituals honoring the dead all year to the Catholic dates commemorating All Saints Day and Souls Day on November 1st and 2nd. Those 2 days became known as Dia de los Muertos. 

Furthermore, those who identify as indigenous in Latin America celebrated the dead with traditions and symbols infused with non-official Catholic practices and notions of an afterlife. Also people kept, honoring and communing with the dead continued for 36 years while Mexico was ruled by 50 different governments following its independence from Spain in 1821. When the Mexican Liberal Party, which was led by Benito Juarez, won the War of Reform in December 1860, the church and state were separated, but Dia de los Muertos remained a religious celebration for many in Mexico’s rural heartland.Although, in other parts of the world, the holiday became more secular and popularized as part of the national culture. Because of this, the majority of Latin American countries, as well as other countries such as the Philippines, have begun to observe it annually. 


Cómo se celebra el Dia de los Muertos en diferentes países? (How is Dia de los Muertos celebrated in different countries?)

Guatemala _____________________

In Guatemala, the holiday is known as Dia de Todos los Santos, which translates as “Day of All Saints.” Families traditionally visit cemeteries and reunite at the graves of their loved ones. Beautiful flowers, palms, pin needles, and wreaths are used to decorate the graves. Then their  families share a meal together with the cemetery, and the meal is usually the favorite of the loved one who has passed away. Not to mention they also have a festival called Festival de Barriletes Gigantes which is celebrated along with Dia de los Muertos. They fly kites mainly because indigenous people/ancestors  have used them to communicate and unite with their deceased loved ones. 



 It’s a national holiday in Ecuador which allows people to pay their respects to those who have passed. It coincides with All Souls Day, and this overlap contributes to the historical Latin-American tendency of blending and hybridizing previous traditions or indigenous customs with Catholic ones. Their traditions include vigils or visits to cemeteries on the behalf of the deceased’s family and/or friends, who bring gifts such as flowers and food with them. Furthermore, El Salvador has a complicated relationship with its own Dia de los Muertos celebration known as La Calabiuza, which takes place in early November and is an indigenous tradition. Indigenous persons honored their dead thousands of years ago by dressing up as skeletons and parading through the city with torches. 



 Mexico is where Dia de los Muertos stands tall in terms of most popularity. They commemorated the deceased by holding family gatherings to honor them through various traditions and customs. They make large and beautiful altars in their homes and place photos of memories and the deceased to attract the spirits. Also they decorate and exchange sugar skull candies or figurines to express gratitude for the dead. For those who live in Mexico or are Mexican, it’s a day when the boundary between the living and the dead is said to vanish, allowing souls to visit relatives for a limited time. A family cannot be torn apart even through death. 



    Rather than calling it Die de Los Muertos, Filipinos call it Undas, which is a time of year when people gather with family from all over the world to feast with one another on this special day. During this celebration, Filipinoes light candles, clean cemeteries, and remember their departed relatives. Rather than being a time for mourning, this is a time to celebrate the legacies of those who have gone before us so that their souls will never truly leave us. 




Haiti also has its own version of Dia de los Muertos called Fet Gede. Because of its Voodoo influence, they use this holiday to honor the Voodoo spirit, which is associated with death and fertility, and it is celebrated and honored at cemeteries, family events, and religious sites. They fill the days of November 1st and 2nd with dancing, singing, rituals, and feasts to honor those who have passed.