Dead on Holiday

In Mexican Tradition All Souls Day is Dia de los Muertos

This autumn one group of Americans has chosen their Halloween costumes and bought candy. Another group is painting skulls and looking through scrapbooks for favorite pictures of dead relatives.

All Souls Day is the Catholic holiday commemorated on November 2, following All Saints Day the day before. But in Mexican and Mexican-American culture, Nov. 2 is also known as Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos?a celebration to honor relatives and ancestors who have passed away.

Dia de los Muertos honors the continuous cycle of life and death, says Marisol Torres, an art teacher at Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles. People of all ages make papier-mach? skulls, bright yellow tissue flowers, and Mexican decorative called “papel picado.”

Torres says that the day offers her a sense of connection and rootedness with those that came before her. “I have a lot of respect for my ancestors and my family and I remember them with happiness,” says Torres, 27.

Mexican art often makes use of skulls?the ultimate symbol of death. Artists depict skulls in a whimsical and colorful way to show that death is not something to be feared.

Dia de los Muertos also has its roots in ancient Aztec and Meso-American civilizations. Indigenous people believed that the spirits of the dead come back to visit once a year and should be honored and remembered. With the introduction of Catholicism into Mexico, attitudes and beliefs fused, and the celebration was moved to November.

In Mexican-American homes small altars are made in honor of departed family members. On the altars are placed pictures of the deceased, their favorite foods, a glass of water, marigolds, incense, and candles. The preparations encourage storytelling among different generations within a family.

Photo 1:
FOLK TRADITIONS: Mexican artists often depict skulls in a whimsical and colorful way to show that death is not something to be feared.

Photo 2:
LEARNING CULTURE: At Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles Janet Figueroa holds Ivette Perez, 4, while she colors a paper skull image in preparation for the Mexican-American celebration of Day of the Dead.