June 27, 2019 | 89° F

Dia de los Meurtos adds cultural context to U.S. Halloween

Photo by Wikimedia Commons |

Prepare your sugar skulls, fragrant marigold flowers and most delightful candies because this year’s Day of the Dead is upon us. It’s time to receive the dead in Aztec fashion: Set up your ofrendas, altars, at home with bursting bright colors and photographs of your deceased loved ones. Then get ready for them to feast on your offerings for the 24 hours that they return to the temporal world.

Dia de los Muertos, more commonly known as Day of the Dead in the United States, is an Aztec holiday popularly celebrated in Mexico and some parts of Latin America. Over time the 3,000-year-old holiday mixed with Spanish Catholicism and the multi-day festival acknowledges the beauty of death as part of life.

The honoring starts at midnight on Oct. 31, when souls from heaven are allowed to return to earth and their families. It continues through All Saints Day and All Souls Day in Catholicism on Nov. 1 and 2, respectively.

People celebrating gather around their ofrendas or at the gravesites of their loved ones and the celebration begins at midnight in a communal fashion. Dia de los Muertos, although focused on the dead, is a joyous celebration bolstered by an abundance of sweet and savory dishes, flowers and music.

More than anything else, Dia de los Muertos was originally intended to be a spiritual experience. Marco Albarran, an exhibit developer at Arizona State University, told AZCentral.com that the event is focused on connecting with family and the afterlife.

“Here in the United States, they’re just trying to connect to something. All humans celebrate something that is very similar,” he said. “But everybody in each place has their own kind of twist, so it becomes more a humanistic celebration than a specifically Mexican one.”

Some countries add their own traditions to the holiday. In Guatemala, extremely colorful and ornately decorated kites are flown high above the graveyards in a spectacle. Mexico has claimed the staple sugar skulls, which are traditionally handmade, according to MexicanSugarSkull.com. The site also explains that these sweet sculptures aren’t actually for eating but are purely decoration.

In New Brunswick, the public library is responsible for the community’s interpretation of the holiday. On Saturday, Oct. 29, the festivities will kick off at 1 p.m. with creating your own ofrenda. Weather permitting, the event will be outside and everyone is invited to contribute to honoring the dead.

Attendees are asked to bring photos of their loved ones to add to the altar or bring their loved one’s name written down on a colorful piece of paper, in addition to bread, flowers or chocolate to bring to the ofrenda.

There will also be traditional music and an Aztec dance performed by the Calpulli Huehuetlatolli dance troupe to create an atmosphere similar the celebrations happening in indigenous communities Central America.

Brittany Gibson

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