Death, for some, is the finality of all things; for others, it’s the beginning of eternal life. For some Latin American cultures, death is celebrated and welcomed.
Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the dead), a multi-day holiday that begins October 31 and ends November 2, focuses on the gatherings of family and friends to pray for the dead, and help support their spiritual journey.
Dia De Los Muertos for many people who are unaccustomed to the holiday is just a Latino and or Hispanic version of Halloween because of it’s macabre costumes and closeness to Halloween. But unbeknownst to most Dia De Los Muertos has a deep and enriching history that is rarely acknowledged.
The holiday originates from Mexico and has roots in indigenous Aztec rituals, as well as Catholicism. It’s celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day which deal with the calling to live as a saint and to pray and remember the dead.
The original concepts, rituals, and festivities for Dia de Los Muertos go back thousands of years before the Spanish conquest of various ethnic groups in the area including the Aztecs, Mayans, and Toltecs. These various groups would dedicate certain periods of time to honor the death of children, and others the death of Adults in dedication to the goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead”.
Despite the urging sense of finality and sad undertone, the holiday isn’t melancholic because it’s used to celebrate the memory of those who have passed.
“We celebrate and remember them for what they were and for when they were alive and to not be sad about the fact that they’re not here on this aren’t anymore,” said Tatiana Uribe, the co-president of La Fuerza. “I feel closer to the people that are not here, even though they died when I was younger. I know that they cared about me even though I didn’t get that chance to meet them and it helps me feel more connected to them.”
On Dia De Los Muertos it is believed that the spirits of loved ones are allowed to join the living and connect with them, for that reason the celebrations are looked at more positively. Celebrations typically include live music, dancing, and parades, family members will typically gather around their loved ones’ graves where they leave food, toys, alcohol, and favorite possessions the person might have had.
Breanna David, the president of La Fuerza said, “Dia De Los Muertos represents a culture of feeling proud of your heritage and being proud of where you come from because you’re honoring the people who came before you and everything they’ve done for you.”
With the negative stigma surrounding death, many people from other cultures look at the concept with dismay and disapproval, but the joyous celebrations and ideologies embodied on Dia De Los Muertos may help people come to terms with the idea of death and the mourning of those we love.
According to a Nobel prize-winning Mexican writer, Octavio Paz, “The Mexican is familiar with death; jokes about it caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. True, there is as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away.”
Dia De Los Muertos culminates life by encouraging the families of loved ones to embrace and accept the passing of those who have passed through joyous festivities and embraces the ideology of life after death. Despite its name, Dia De Los Muertos truly is the embodiment and celebration of life.