The Beautiful and Unique Tradition of Dia de Los Muertos

By: Riley Brown | Last updated: Aug 23, 2022

Dia de Los Muertos, or “day of the dead” is actually a celebration of life. It is not a somber occasion. Rather, it is an opportunity for families to reunite for a brief time and remind themselves that life is precious and fleeting.The holiday originated in Mexico, but is celebrated in Latin America as well as the U.S. On November 1 and November 2, family and friends gather to celebrate the lives of their lost loved ones. The celebrations include traditional foods, vibrant colors, and costumes to make offerings to loved ones who have passed on.

"Ofrendas" are Altars to Honor the Dead

Families and friends create ofrendas either at their homes or at cemeteries to honor their loved ones. Candles on the altar are meant to guide the departed back to celebrate with their living loved ones.

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The altars are usually adorned with photos of the dead and special items that remind you of them. This might include some of their favorite foods, drinks, flowers, clothing, etc. Offerings are usually based on the four elements: fire, water, earth, and wind.

Food Plays a Large Role in the Celebration

Traditional Mexican foods are a huge part of the holiday. Pan de Muertos is a traditional bread dish often served at these ceremonies. It is a sweet fluffy loaf of bread baked with sugar and topped with decorations.

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Another popular dish is sugar skulls. These are actually not meant to be eaten, but rather admired. Many people carve the names of the deceased into the skulls to represent the dead. Different colors signify different things as well. For example, red represents blood and purple represents suffering.

The “Skull Face” is One of the Most Recognizable Traditions

The signature skull face is something of a mascot to the entire day of the dead. People paint their faces as skulls, make skulls out of candy, and wear costumes that are skull themed. For this reason, the holiday is often confused with Halloween, but there is actually no relation.

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The skull became the famous symbol of Dia de Los Muertos because it is used to honor La Catrina. She was an Aztec queen who is known as being a leader of the dead. So, the skulls have historical significance as well as being fun to look at.

Marigolds are Another Symbol of the Day of the Dead

Marigolds are a beautiful yellow flower that can be found at the ofrendas as a gracious offering to the deceased. The scent and color of the flowers are meant to lure the dead from their sleep and back to their families to celebrate.

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The color yellow symbolizes nature and orange represents the sun. Also, marigolds remind families of how short life can be so the living don’t take advantage of their remaining time on earth. While many flowers are used to contribute to the colorful celebration, the marigold has earned the title of being a symbol of the day.