Lost loved ones return for Día de los Muertos

Reuniting with lost loved ones in the afterlife is something most living souls wait for. In Mexican culture, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead invites spirits back to Earth to celebrate the holiday with their families for one day of the year. 

Originating in Mexico, the holiday combines Aztec rituals with Catholicism brought by Spanish colonization, according to National Geographic. It honors the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the “Lady of the Dead,” who is believed to protect the bones of the departed. 

Day of the Dead takes place over a two-day period. Beginning at midnight Nov. 1, the spirits of children visit, and adults arrive the following day. A grand finale takes place Nov. 2 with celebrations in the streets of cities in Mexico and other countries around the world.

Minnesota State freshman Jonathan Ramos recalls spending Day of the Dead in the country where it began. 

“One year we were in Mexico, we got all of our family together and went to our grandparent’s house,” Ramos said. “We decorated and celebrated the death of our lost loved ones.” 

The entire celebration revolves around the ofrenda, the Spanish word for “offering,” a collection of offerings intended for the lost souls to enjoy during their day back on Earth. The ofrenda consists of a table covered with cloth, candles, marigolds, photographs and possessions of the honored sitting on top. On the lower part of the altar, family members set out favorite meals, drinks and Mexican cuisine. 

Colorful skulls decked in flowers and shimmer embody the symbol of Day of the Dead. Sugar candy skulls are placed on ofrendas and all over Mexico’s cities, while many people paint their faces. Skulls are typically drawn with a smile, to symbolize laughter at death and its attempt to separate families. 

Marigolds cover the streets of Mexico and ofrendas as well, as they are believed to become the pathway back to Earth. Its vibrant scent and colors are believed to attract the departed, and guide them back to their family’s ofrenda. The Marigold itself symbolizes life’s beauty, and fragility. 

Once the at-home festivities are complete, the celebrations pool into the streets, with parades, music, dancing, food, costumes and more. Many cities hold festivals with ofrendas present, to bring photographs and write names in remembrance. 

Once the celebrations come to an end, families take the time to spruce up the graves of their loved ones. Cleaning and polishing tombs represents care for the departed past Day of the Dead, until the holiday returns next year. 

A common misconception with Day of the Dead is that death is intended to be somber. Instead, those who partake believe the holiday to be quite the opposite — a celebration. Death is a part of life, and it reunites families for much longer than the 24 hours they are given one day of the year. 

Day of the Dead commemorates the idea that the dead are never dead, as long as they are remembered on Earth. Once souls are forgotten and are not present on an ofrenda on Earth, they are finally gone. 

“I think the Day of the Dead is important to remember and pass the stories of your loved ones on,” Ramos said.

Write to Mercedes Kauphusman at mercedes.kauphusman@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated annually to welcome lost loved ones from the afterlife back to Earth to reunite with their families. (Mercedes Kauphusman/The Reporter)

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