UTAH (ABC4) – It’s almost November which means it’s time to honor loved ones who have passed while celebrating Día de Los Muertos or the “Day of the Dead.”
Whether you celebrate every year with loved ones or you’re just curious about the holiday, let’s take a closer look at the festive celebration and how you can join in, too.
Día de Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday that celebrates and remembers loved ones who have passed. The celebration is a joyous one, filled with food, drink, dancing, and merriment. The two-day celebration takes place every year from November 1-2.
The celebration is centered around the souls of loved ones returning to the “Land of the Living” for a brief reunion with family every year. It’s rooted in Mexican origin, but is now celebrated by millions around the world.
“November 1 is “El Dia de los Inocentes,” or the Day of the Children and November 2 is All Saints Day or All Souls Day. According to tradition, the gates of Heaven are opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours. The spirits of adults can do the same on November 2,” according to History.com.
How to celebrate Día de Los Muertos
The most visible element of the holiday is an “ofrenda” or an altar to honor your loved ones. The ofrenda is decorated with things the person who passed loved the most. You can set up your own ofrenda on a dresser or table around your home.
“Altars are ways to remember friends, family, and loved ones who have passed on in the belief that this period from October 31 to November 2, they are a little bit closer to us, so we leave things on the altar that remind us of them and the great memories we had with them,” says Taylor Timmerman, Development Coordinator of the West Valley City Division of Arts and Culture. “The things they liked, maybe food and drinks that they liked. It’s a great way to keep the memory and tradition of loved ones who have passed on in life.”
“It will help you remember them and remind them that you are always thinking of them and they are present in your lives,” says Noemi Hernandez with the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.
The classic ofrenda includes the four elements of life — earth, wind, fire, and water. It can also include salt to cleanse the soul, marigolds, calacas (skeletons), calaveras (skulls), paper cutout banners or “papel picado,” candles, fruits, and more.
Classic food and drink
“Day of the Dead is celebrated with food because we want to make sure the people who passed are honored by the offering of the food they enjoyed,” says Hernandez.
Traditional food items include “pan de muerto” or sweet Mexican bread, mole (a rich, spicy, savory sauce), sugar skulls, tamales, hot chocolate, atole (a hot corn and masa-based drink), and more.
“The food offerings are believed to sustain spirits and souls of loved ones and their journey to the Land of the Living and The Land of the Dead,” says Hernandez.
Another fun way to celebrate is decorating sugar skulls. You can paint or use other materials to decorate skulls that represent the ones you are honoring. Although traditionally made of hardened sugar, you can also use skulls of other materials to decorate, too. Incorporate the loved one’s favorite colors, elements and facial features while decorating the skulls.
“They’re beautiful and a magical, fun process to make,” says Hernandez. “The significance of the sugar skulls is very meaningful. You can set them on the ofrenda and each skull represents the person who is no longer with us.”
A day of remembrance, Día de los Muertos is a meaningful holiday meant to honor, cherish and remember the loved ones who have passed, knowing they are always a part of your life.
“Día de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community,” says National Geographic. “On Día de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.”
Check out more information about the holiday and this year’s celebration in West Valley City here.