On November 1st and 2nd the souls of our loved ones come back to us for two days filled with love, laughter and appreciation. Marked by music, bright colors, and sacred traditions, Dia de los Muertos is a special holiday that unites families and honors the departed.
There are many traditions and customs associated with Dia de los Muertos. One of the most important customs is the creation of altars.
Families come together to build altars for the souls of their loved ones. Altars are prepared in homes or at family grave-sites; they are a place of prayer and family unity. Each element of an altar has its own significance and meaning. The arches of an altar are representative of the passageways between life and death while candles lit are symbols of light, faith and hope. Candles are also lit for each lost family member; there are four candles placed on the top level of the altar to represent the cardinal directions.
You will often see Papel picado, colorful tissue paper, strung around altars. Family members cut the papel picado into intricate and beautiful designs. Each color used has its own special representation:
Black is for the Preshispanic religions and land of the dead
Purple is from the Catholic calendar to signify pain, suffering, grief and mourning
Pink is for celebration
White represents purity and hope
Yellow and orange symbolize the marigold, the sun and light
Red has two different meanings; for Christians it symbolizes the blood of Jesus.
Indigenous people use red to symbolize the life blood of humans and animals
Flowers are also an important piece in altars and symbolize the brevity of life. Often strewn in garlands, marigolds are the most traditional flower found during Dia de los Muertos. In Aztec times, it was called cempasuchil, the flower of 400 lives and its scent leads the spirits home. You can even find paths of marigold petals lying about the floor to guide the spirits.
Ofrendas, are offerings placed at the altar for the spirits of our loved ones. Ofrendas are favorite items of loved ones, like favorite foods, photos, toys, tools or instruments. You will find special treats, sweets, and the favorite food and drinks of loved ones at each altar. But they will also have water, salt and bread.
Water is there to quench thirst and offer purification for spirits.
Salt is there to season the food and offer purification, as well.
Bread represents the food needed for survival.
Celebrate and recognize other cultures:
Dia de los Muertos is a beautiful holiday that can be celebrated by any person, regardless of religion or background. It is intended to bring families together and rejoice in the lives of deceased loved ones. Unlike Halloween, it is not dominated by ghosts, ghouls, zombies and werewolves. Firmly rooted in its traditions, Dia de los Muertos truly is a happy holiday.
Join Mesa Arts Center at our annual Dia de los Muertos Festival on Saturday October 25th and Sunday October 26th! There will be delicious foods, a colorful mercado featuring an assortment of Dia de los Muertos merchandise, jewelry, arts and crafts. Two stages of live entertainment with a variety of excellent performing groups and much more. If you have never celebrated Dia de los Muertos before, this is a great way to experience it for the first time.
Come to this free family friendly festival! We can’t wait to see you there!
By Katie Selph