Amid the hubbub of this Halloween season, some people are preparing to celebrate a very different holiday: el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.
Unlike the dark spookiness that Halloween is known for, the Day of the Dead is dedicated to joy, family and respect. It’s a holiday traditionally celebrated in Mexican and Latin American cultures, where death is viewed as a natural part of the life cycle. Thus, rather than being a time of mourning, sadness and grief, the Day of the Dead is a time for celebration, because people are celebrating the lives of their loved ones who have passed on.
A main part of celebrating this holiday is creating ofrendas, a Spanish word for offerings. These are essentially altars to honor the dead. First, the ofrenda focuses on what the holiday is designated for, honoring loved ones specifically. There might be photos, food and drink the people enjoyed in life, or representations of hobbies or other things they loved. This is what the holiday is dedicated for, honoring departed loved ones.
Second, food. There would be food that loved ones liked, but there’s also usually pan de muerto, a sweet bread specifically for Día de los Muertos, and sugar skulls, which represent the souls of the departed and are usually decorated with fun colors, as well as names. Other traditional foods, like mole, tamales, fruits, red rice, hot chocolate and dried fruit, are also included.
Flowers are another part of the ofrenda. The most traditional flowers are marigolds. They represent life and its fragility. Marigolds help guide the spirits, through their bright colors and the scent of their petals.
Many other decorations may be featured as well. There are candles, incense, papel picado (translated to “pierced paper,” it’s tissue paper with pierced-in patterns) and calaverita literaria, short poems written specifically for the Day of the Dead.
The belief is that the Day of the Dead is the one day of the year that loved ones can return and visit their living relatives. Placing decorations and mementos on the ofrenda strengthens that connection.
Today, Día de los Muertos is celebrated around Halloween — Oct. 31 and Nov. 1-2 — to line up more with Western Christian holidays. However, before the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, it was actually celebrated toward the beginning of summer. Celebration of this holiday has been traced back to indigenous observances hundreds of years ago at an Aztec festival for one of their goddesses, Mictecacihuatl.
The modern Day of the Dead festival was inspired by pre-Columbian culture traditions; ceremonies honoring the dead had been performed by those cultures for thousands of years prior. The ceremony was celebrated for the entire ninth month in the Aztec calendar, which is in August, and was dedicated to the goddess, the “Lady of the Dead.”
In the 20th century, the celebration shifted into two days: Nov. 1, to honor children and infants, and Nov. 2, to honor deceased adults. These events actually have different names: Nov. 1 is “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) and Nov. 2 is “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead).
If you want to find out more about the Day of the Dead, this year there will be a community ofrenda set up at Ogden’s Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave. Several groups will be contributing, including Venture High School. Feel free to visit and see part of the celebration of this holiday.
The ofrenda will stay up until Nov. 1; on that day, there is a community Día de los Muertos celebration from 6-9 p.m. at the station. Admission is free and authentic music, dance and foods will be featured.