A Crash Course on Dia de los Muertos 

Oct 30, 2021, 4:19 PM
West Valley Arts presents Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Mexican dance and musical  perform...
West Valley Arts presents Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Mexican dance and musical performances were included in the 2021 event. (Photo credit: Utah Cultural Celebration Center)
(Photo credit: Utah Cultural Celebration Center)

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated to honor those who passed on before us. It is also referred to as the Day of the Dead. While sharing some common identifiers, Dia de los Muerto should not be mistaken for the Mexican verison of Halloween. Both holidays do share some overlapping traditions, such as festive foods and bright colorful costumes. 

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Day of the Dead is a brief sliver of time when dearly departed return to the living, while the living pay loving tribute to those who have moved on. 

The cultural history of this day can be traced back to over 3,000 years ago, where Aztecs in what is now known as central Mexico brought themselves to honor the dead. They did not view death as a solemn endeavor, but simply as an important balance and part of life. 

Cultural holiday celebrated by Mexicans

Celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, this is a cultural holiday celebrated by Mexicans to honor their loved ones who have made the journey to the afterlife. Though often associated with the catholic holiday celebrated at the same dates, Dia de los Muertos is typically much less solemn and used more to rejoice departed loved ones rather than to mourn them. 

Ofrendas, or altars, are built to commemorate lost family and friends. These Ofrendas include offerings such as beloved foods and beverages, as well as sacred trinkets to pay tribute to the past. Planning out these altars can take the better part of a year.

To help the souls of loved ones to make the journey back from the afterlife, Marigolds are traditionally placed on graves in order to better attract spirits. Marigolds in this context have been called Flor De Los Muerto, or Flower of the Dead. 

Food offerings

Sugar skulls and tamales rank highly on the list of food offerings for those dearly departed. Pan de Muertos, a baked sugary sweet roll, is another popular treat. Auga de Jaimaca, a herbal tea flavored with hibiscus plant is a well known beverage to offer to lost ones. While these foods are meant for the dead, the living are known to indulge in these offerings themselves, as the deceased are believed to eat the “spiritual essence” of what has been provided.  

Family and friends of the lost loved ones sit around these altars and share stories with one another as the souls of loved ones stand by and listen. 

United States traditions are nearly identical to those in Mexico. California has  been a cultural hub for recent celebrations due to their large Hispanic cultural heritages.  

For local celebrations in Utah and your community, visit https://www.culturalcelebration.org/day-of-the-dead.html 

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A Crash Course on Dia de los Muertos