by: Rebecca Espino


Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated in Mexico starting the evening of October 31 to the 2nd of November. This festival is not only held in Mexico, but also in Latin American countries along with El Salvador and Venezuela however, it is not celebrated in Puerto Rico. It is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Mexico. Over 500 years ago, Spanish Conquistadores landed in what is now Mexico and discovered this tradition. This is a ritual that takes place in some parts of the United States as well. With the heavy influence of the Catholic religion, it also is a large part in the celebration of this day. While this tradition follows closely to the Aztec rituals, it also is combined with traditions of the Catholic religion. Most of the connection to the Aztec's are the traditional skulls used, however now you see sugar skulls everywhere to celebrate this holiday. Skulls are used to celebrate the dead, and their shift to the afterlife. The Spaniards were not familiar with this however, because they believed that death was the end of life. This holiday is a celebration of life, which means that people are having fun and remembering the good things about the people who passed while enjoying the company of their loved ones in spirit. Many people visit graves and lead their loved ones spirits to them, so they can dedicate their alters and many gifts to them.
These are edible sugar skulls that are in many market places in Mexico to celebrate the tradition of honoring the dead


This ceremony is practiced on November 1st to 2nd. The ritual was moved to these days to make it more 'Christian' when the Spaniards conquered, because it corrolated to All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. The celebrations are different wherever you are, for example in rural Mexico people honor the dead by visiting their graves and decorating them flowers and candles. More creative grave decorators bring toys for past children and even tequila for the adults, while eating their loved ones favorite foods. This is a holiday that is celebrated in vivid color and has an overwhelming feeling of joy. In some parts of278_04_2.jpg Mexico, people dedicate the whole day to stay by the graves and share stories to celebrate their past loved ones lives. In other parts of Mexico, mostly in major cities, families build alters inside of their houses. These alters are decorated with flowers(marigolds), candles, incense, food, sugar skulls, and pictures of loved ones that have passed. Sometimes there are roads of flowers that lead their loved ones from their grave to the altar that was constructed and decorated in their honor. People not only celebrate for their family members and people they know, but of all the souls that have passed. This is a very respectful ceremony and tradition that is made personal with all the gifts and celebrating together.


Alabanza: Catholic Hymn of praise

Calaca: In Mexico it refers to the Grim Reaper, a skeleton figure representing death

Calaverear: From skull, meaning to live it up or act recklessly

Cempazuchitl: Yellow marigold, which symbolizes death

La Noche de Duelo: "The Night of Mourning" the beginning of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, where there is a candlelight procession to the ceremony, in which friends and relatives bring food and flowers, have a meal there, and decorate an altar to the deceased


There are many different types of art forms that express Dia de los Muertos. Some of these include, paintings, sculptures, decorations and even tattoos. There are also forms of celebration like dancing and singing, as in other Spanish traditions like the Flamenco . One area of interest for me is tattoos, because i feel like i see them often for loved ones that have passed. These tattoos are usually in bright colors and usually show a skull head with a skeletal body (like the picture shown below). lrap_0811_06_z+dia_de_los_muertos+tattoo_magic.jpgThese are tattoos that people have a very special connection with, because it is almost like a mural on your body. Another form of art are the ceramic skulls that are painted and sold in Mexico. These also have bright colors, like most of the decorations surrounding Dia de los Muertos, and have different functions. Some skulls are incense burners which people use at the alters during the ceremony or just for decoration. Another form of expression is found at the top of the page, which are edible sugar skulls. Many people purchase the sugar skulls and enjoy eating them, and decorating them. Most people express Dia de los Muertos through paintings, which are radiant and beautiful. There are some people that make up scenes with multiple skeletons in them and for example, paint a Day of the Dead memorial under the sea. There will be skeletons for humans and other animals as well, which makes it fun to look at and lighthearted. It is important to remember that Dia de los Muertos is a time to remember and not mourn. It is a celebration of life and a way to remember the dead.

Proverbs and Popular Sayings:

Hay más tiempo que vida
There is more time than life.

Hierba mala nunca muere.
Bad weed never dies.

Se me subió el muerto.
The deceased climbed on me! Which means: “It really scared me!”

Ya ni en la paz de los sepulcros creo.
I don’t even believe in the peace of the tombs anymore. “I don’t trust anyone”

Te asustas del muerto y te cobijas con la mortaja.
You’re afraid of the defunct but use his shroud to cover yourself!It is used when someone is criticizing another one, but at the same time he takes advantage of him.

A mí la muerte me pela los dientes.

Death peels my teeth!
Which means “Death can’t do anything to me!"

Quien con la esperanza vive, alegre muere.
He who lives with hope dies happy.

Common Misconceptions:
As stated above, there are many misconceptions that Dia de los Muertos should be a morbid, dreary holiday. However, this is not the case. There are many festivities, people dancing and celebrating, and many offerings as Mexico celebrates their life, rather than mourning their death. Another misconception about this festival is that it is tied with the American holiday, Halloween. This is an issue because the holiday starts on Halloween afternoon or eve, which would lead people to believe that it is the same thing. Also, with the use of skulls and skeletons, one might think it looks very similar, except the fact that there are bright colors and it is not frightening. In Mexico there are vendors that toss oranges into coffins along with other goods as offerings to their loved ones that passed. There are candles lit in late afternoon as they remember their loved ones and their departed souls. There are many parallels between Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, however they stand for two very different things no matter how similar they may seem.