Dia De Los Muertos

Where & Why this is celebrated.

By Luisa Shumpert November 2, 2023

Being a second generation born Mexican-American in Grand Rapids MI, comes with its perks and disadvantages. I can't thank all of my grandparents enough for what they had to do to get here. It's still blows my mind to know the hardships they overcame to be where we are at today. They gave us the biggest jump in life by working hard and smart to afford us all of the comforts we have now. One of the disadvantages is not being as culturally connected to our Mexican heritage and language as we all assimilated to our American ways. Even though we cooked traditional food, watched novelas (Spanish soap operas), danced cumbias (song genre), and listened to Mariachi and Tejano music, neither of my families (paternal or maternal) celebrated Dia De Los Muertos when I was young. In fact the first time I recall learning of this tradition was in my middle school Spanish class. After Disney's Coco came out and people in the Grand Rapids community started to celebrate the holiday more often, my family still did not celebrate Dia De Los Muertos. I even asked my living Grandparents & they said it was not celebrated in their part of Mexico, it was more southern parts of Mexico celebration. I can barely remember the 1993 Spanish class text book version on the history of this celebration, so I went to the History Channel!

I know that Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday for celebrating death and life. Where mourning is exchanged for celebration and remembrance for those who have passed on. I was more curious to find out the history of how this holiday came about and why parts of Mexico didn't celebrate it back when my grandparents were young. After visiting the History Channel, my findings and a brief history are below. Overall I believe that traditions may have not reached the areas in which my grandparents lived... like the little city of Tampico or as far north of the Texas/Mexico border. Dia De Los Muertos is regionally celebrated differently as noted below in the history lesson :)

Another source was the site Day of the Dead which noted that November 1st was for the Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the little angels), at midnight of the following day (November 2nd), the celebrations shift to honor the lives of the departed adults, and November 2 at noon is the grand finale and public celebration of Dia de Muertos (all souls). Which my 20 year old son mentioned to me as well since he is all knowing (lbvs). My family and I were talking about observing the holiday since I made a small ofrenda (alter) to remember my 22 year old son that recently passed. He did love to watch Disney's Coco with his 2 year old son as well, so it only seemed fitting to acknowledge this celebration. Also on my ofrenda is my grandmother who passed in 2020.  I will be adding my other loved ones who passed to keep their memory alive as well. I also learned every ofrenda includes the four elements: water, wind, earth and fire.  Water is left in a pitcher so the spirits can quench their thirst.  Papel picado, or traditional paper banners, represent the wind. Earth is represented by food, especially bread. I better update mine! #LLM #LLB

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday with a rich history that dates back to indigenous Mesoamerican cultures, particularly the Aztec and Nahua peoples. It is a multi-day celebration that honors and remembers deceased loved ones. Here's a brief history of Dia de los Muertos:

  1. Ancient Roots: The tradition of honoring the dead in Mesoamerica can be traced back over 3,000 years. The Aztecs dedicated a month-long celebration to their goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the "Lady of the Dead."
  2. Blend of Indigenous and Catholic Traditions: When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas, they attempted to suppress indigenous beliefs and practices. However, they were unable to eradicate the deeply rooted tradition of honoring the deceased. Instead, they incorporated Catholicism into the celebration, resulting in the modern fusion of indigenous and Catholic elements.
  3. All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day: Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, corresponding with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in the Catholic calendar. These dates were chosen to coincide with the indigenous traditions of honoring the dead.
  4. Ofrendas: Central to the celebration are ofrendas, or altars, which are adorned with marigolds, sugar skulls, candles, incense, favorite foods and beverages of the deceased, and photographs. These ofrendas are meant to welcome the spirits of the departed back to the living world.
  5. Calavera Catrina: The iconic image of La Calavera Catrina, a stylishly dressed skeleton, has become synonymous with Dia de los Muertos. It was originally created as a satirical illustration by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada.
  6. Regional Variations: Dia de los Muertos is celebrated differently in various regions of Mexico and other Latin American countries. Some places have unique customs and traditions related to the holiday.
  7. UNESCO Cultural Heritage: In 2008, UNESCO recognized Dia de los Muertos as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, highlighting its significance and cultural importance.

Today, Dia de los Muertos is a vibrant and colorful celebration that not only honors the deceased but also serves as a time for families to come together and celebrate the cycle of life and death. It has also gained popularity in various parts of the world as a symbol of Mexican culture and a way to remember loved ones who have passed away.