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  • Writer's pictureEm G

Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) November 1-2

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

"Love crosses the barriers of time and borders, especially at Dia de Muertos ofrendas."

Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an ancient Meso-American spiritual celebration of life not death. It is a tradition dating back over 2000 years to honor and protect the bones of deceased loved ones. Today, many families create personal memorials or altars, called ofrendas, in their homes and/or gather together to decorate the burial grounds or cemeteries and share stories of loved ones. Dia de Muertos was originally a month-long celebration and in some places is called Dias de los Difuntos (Days of the Deceased).

Traditionally, Mexican ofrendas and burial grounds are highly decorated with candles, religious symbols, marigold flowers, candied decorated sugar skulls, papel picados (elaborate designs made from cutting colorful tissue paper), personal photos, food and drinks. In the homes, cherished items and belongings of deceased loved ones are also displayed. Remembrances of our beloved ones are the ties to the next generations and many of their life stories often provide wisdom of life, and laughter too.

History tells of the Spanish colonization of the Indios and how the original Meso-American month long traditions, literature, poetry, spirituality and language were suppressed. One method, syncretism, was to merge Dia de Muertos with the Christian holy days of All Saints Day, November 1st and All Souls Day, November 2nd.

Traditionally, November 1st is Dia de los Ninos (Day of the Children) or as it is affectionately called, Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the little Angels). November 2nd is when the adults are to be included on the ofrenda. The Christian syncretism is still evident as symbols of crosses, saints or rosaries are included on the ofrendas (altars) and at the panteons (cemeteries).

Dia de Muertos altar

Dias de Muertos is celebrated in different ways in various regions of North America however, the traditions and the symbolisms are always filled with rich stories. Rather than grieve the deceased, it's a time to celebrate their memories. It is believed that death is not the end of one's life but simply another chapter of life.

In the early years of the Dia de Muertos celebrations at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, I performed as the first La Catrina caricature. It was a very delightful experience! Thereafter, many people came as La Catrina and El Catrin characters to the annual event. The Catrins/Catrinas are skeletal caricatures dressed in fancy clothes, initially as a mockery the wealthy and/or indifferent to people's suffering. La Catrina was created by Jose Guadalupe Posada Aguilar, political lithographer, and is featured in a mural by the famous muralist Diego Rivera. La Catrina is a central figure in Mexican art and an icon in annual Dias de Muertos celebrations.

Grief is individual, and is a deeply personal experience. Dia de Muertos is a time to honor the deceased and celebrate their lives. On a personal level it's important to remember it is also a sacred tradition. I have often been thanked for sharing this tradition because it helps people to speak openly while cherishing the lives of loved ones in a beautiful manner of tribute.

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