Dia De Los Muertos

The History and Celebration of One of the Most Prominent Latin American Holidays

Felizita Eusebio

The History


With Aztec roots, Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Latin American holiday prominently celebrated in Mexico. The Aztecs were known for celebrating the dead with skulls before Dia De Los Muertos emerged. Once the Aztec empire was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century, the Catholic Church took these celebrations and moved them to match All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. In modern times, Catholicism has had a major impact on these celebrations, including the addition of religious elements like crucifixes. 


Dia De Los Muertos begins October 31st and goes throughout November 1st & 2nd. It is said that the souls of those who have passed have a chance to visit their living family members. Having an altar builds a portal that allows these souls to cross back into the realm of the living. By placing photos of the deceased, they are able to correctly find their way to their families. 


The Ofrenda


Ofrendas (altars) are made and decorated in order to celebrate and commemorate those who have passed. Traditionally, ofrendas have items that represent the 4 elements of life: Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Common items to use on your ofrenda that would represent these elements would be candles that illuminate the path that guides souls (fire), incense (air), a cup of water to quench the thirst of traveling souls (water), and marigolds that are known as “the flower of the dead” (Earth).


Having food and drinks is a must while celebrating life. It is common to have the favorite meals and beverages of your loved ones for them to enjoy. Some people also make Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) which originated in Mexico. Also seen on ofrendas are toys and items that represent hobbies. This can include anything from books and paper to cigarettes and alcohol. 


You do not have to be Hispanic or Latino in order to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos. However, give credit where credit is due and ultimately be respectful. Though many use this time to mourn, many others also use this holiday to remember. Celebrating Dia De Los Muertos is overall a way to bring families together and to focus on your loved ones. 


Feliz Dia De Los Muertos!