March 23, 2019 | 36° F

Instead of hunting for free candy celebrate Dia de los Muertos

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday on the Oct. 31 (Halloween), where friends and family gather for a few days to pray for deceased friends and family. In a form of remembrance and following tradition, people build altars either inside or outside of their home where they can offer ofrendas

You probably are wondering "What is this ofrendas you speak of?" Ofrendas include favorite meals, candles, flowers and objects associated with the deceased. These altars are decorated with photos and memorabilia so souls have an easier time finding their way to these altars. On the first day of celebrations and remembrance, children make small altars to invite ghost children to visit. The second day invites adults to the altars for a visit, while on the last day of celebrations families visit the cemeteries of their loved ones and decorate their graves. 

In Mexico you can find groups of people walking from church to church, praying for the deceased. Dia de los Muertos is often seen as a holiday with a sad tone, but contrary to popular belief, it is a day of happiness. Family and friends share their best stories and events with the deceased during this time. Families in certain parts of Mexico invite guests for tamales and/or atole, a traditional hot, corn-based beverage. These traditional foods are given in exchange for small offerings to their altar.

In other regions, celebrations take place in the town center — either through parties or parades. People who live in Mexico believe that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, so creating this happy atmosphere throughout the duration of the holiday is a must.

As a child growing up in a Mexican-American household, this time of year brought a lot of joy for children around the neighborhood. Weeks prior to the celebrations, we would all find offerings we deemed appropriate for the soul's spiritual journey. Families would walk around the neighborhood like people do on Halloween, but instead of asking for candy they would ask to see the families' altar in exchange for offerings. 

Although this holiday is filled with glee, while visiting someone‚Äôs altar, there is a strong sense of respect for the deceased souls that this altar was built for. The altars themselves ranged from very basic to extremely intricate with many offerings. The families that built the more intricate ones were the ones that lost people close to them in that year. 

I was given pesos or candles to light at these altars when I was younger and said a simple prayer so the wandering souls could finally have a place to rest. The most wonderful part of this celebration was on the third day, where everyone went to the cemetery to visit the deceased. During the day, we would clean not only our graves, but the graves of others who have been forgotten.

At night, everyone comes together to light candles to place at each grave and pray for the dead. With the light of each candle, it's as if night has become day and everyone hopes that on this final night the dead can finally rest. 

Omar Rojas

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