A fresh perspective on life and death.

Sheila Arellano // News Editor

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a rich and vivid cultural celebration that is practiced in Latin America and has a particularly strong history rooted in Mexico. This holiday is celebrated on November 1 and 2, and centers around the belief that, for two nights, the deceased return to the world of the living and experience the food, objects, people and scents they loved when they were alive. The first day is dedicated to young children who have passed away, while the second day welcomes all loved ones. 

“The Day of the Dead traditions are more present in the centre and south of Mexico and in the areas previously considered Mesoamerica, which includes Central America,” said Mexican-Canadian visual artist and interdisciplinary educator Josema Zamorano. “Where I grew up in Nayarit, the Indigenous traditions are powerful and there is a special connection with the ancestors.” 

The traditions of Día de los Muertos are complex, stemming from ancient Indigenous practices, as well as from the imposed beliefs that were embedded when Spanish explorers settled in the Americas. Thus, Día de los Muertos has become a fusion of cultural heritage and religion, blending Spanish and Indigenous traditions. Artist and musician Zita Díaz de León commented on her own experience of this alluring tradition: “It is a way to honour your past,” she explained. “I love how it is in Mexico, this nearness to death that comes naturally without fear. The way in which we approach death makes life take on a different meaning, a meaning of celebration.”

Día de los Muertos is celebrated in different ways depending on the location, culture, and tradition. Regardless of these factors, however, there are a few common practices that have been standardized. These include the dates and the ofrenda, or “offering”, which is usually laid out on an altar. The altar can be placed on a tomb, but is also commonly found on tables with various levels that represent the layers of the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. Often, the ofrenda is decorated with marigold flowers, pictures of the deceased, corn, Day of the Dead bread, candles, skulls made of sugar and amaranth, as well as any items the dead used to love and enjoy in life. Some family members may leave cigarettes, candy, chocolate or musical instruments for the dead at the altar, among many other things. 

“In reality, it is a communion, a familiar gathering. But it is not solemn or sad, in fact it is a celebration,” said Zamorano. “There is tequila, there is music, lots of flowers. It is beautiful in that sense, it is a festivity to commemorate the visit of the dead.” The Day of the Dead brings a richness to death that is not commonly found in North America. This vividness offers a novel perspective on grief and death that allows for a wonderful celebration of life and people’s ancestors. This tradition is one that has brought the dead and the living together

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