Halloween is just around the corner, but there is another important holiday that some of our fellow Hoosiers will be celebrating at the end of this month. Día de los Muertos! Many of you have probably heard of this holiday, but let’s dive into some facts into this Latinx cultural day.
When is Día de los Muertos?
Día de los Muertos is not quite the same as Halloween, and is in fact celebrated right after on November 2. Still, many communities and families that celebrate Día de los Muertos do still celebrate Halloween, especially here in the United States.
Who celebrates Día de los Muertos?
Well anyone can celebrate! However, Día de los Muertos originated in Mexico and Central America and continues to mostly be celebrated in Mexico and parts of Central and South America. It has become increasingly popular in Latinx communities in the United States today. Día de los Muertos originated among indigenous communities in Central America including Aztec, Maya and Toltec; these groups had dedicated days where celebrated loved ones who had passed away.
Why celebrate Día de los Muertos?
In short, Día de los Muertos is an opportunity to remember and celebrate the lives of our loved ones who have passed on. It’s a common belief in those who celebrate Día de los Muertos that death is part of the cycle of life; therefore, the celebration of life is a main tenant of the festivities, not death. Music and dancing are always welcome and expected when celebrating Día de los Muertos!
The importance of the Ofrenda
One of the biggest symbols of Día de los Muertos is the ofrenda. The ofrenda (“offering” in English) is an altar constructed by families used to honor their passed loved ones with pictures, items and objects that belonged to the deceased family members. The items placed on the ofrenda serve as a reminder of the lives of deceased loved ones or provide the deceased with objects that they may need on the continuation of their life journey.
The altars should also represent the four elements: wind (with papel picado), earth (with food), fire (with candles) and water. Papel picado is a thin sheet of colorful paper that is cut into intricate designs. This paper is associated with wind because when the deceased arrive at the altar, the paper moves to alert the family of their presence. Food represents the earth element. Foods that the deceased enjoyed are usually placed on the altar. A popular bread, pan de muerto, is regularly included. The bread is crisscross in shape (representing bones) and has a single tear shape representing sorrow. Water is a necessary element as it is believed to quench the soul’s thirst. It can symbolize the source of life and the purity of the soul. The candle flame represents hope and faith. These candles (usually white) light the way for the deceased.
Other important symbols
Other important symbols and objects you may see on Día de los Muertos: the cempasúchil (a type of marigold flower) and calaveritas de azucar (sugar skulls). The flowers’ strong scent and colorful nature create a path to follow so that deceased spirits can find a way from the cemetery to their families’ houses and altars. The popular sugar skull takes a usual morbid symbol and turns it into a fun and almost fanciful reminder that life (and death) are to be celebrated and appreciated.
This Día de los Muertos, join our Latinx neighbors in the festivities and remember the importance and vital lessons this celebration offers. Check out a few events in our districts:
October 30, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Purdue University Northwest
October 31 – November 22, Indiana University Northwest
November 2, 7:00 p.m., Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso
November 1, 5:00 p.m., Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture
October 23 – November 2, Eiteljorg Museum
November 2, 5:00 p.m., Garfield Park Arts Center
October 31, 12:00 p.m., Monroe County Public Library
¡ Feliz Día de los Muertos!