Día de los Muertos: A Celebration of Life

Evelyn Lowen, Sentry Reporter

Once a year on November 1-2, the border between the spirit and real world is lifted, allowing families and friends to reconnect with deceased loved ones. Originating in Mexico and Central America, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) demonstrates respect for elders who have passed and is an important tradition for many families. 

Lives of children and infants are honored on November 1, while the lives of adults are recognized the following day. Though many perceive this holiday as melancholic, it is actually quite the opposite. There is an abundance of singing, dancing, costumes, parades and parties to commemorate the process of life. 

La Danza de los Viejitos, the dance of the little old men, is a common celebratory dance. This entails boys dressing up as older men, pretending to walk around slouched over before suddenly jumping up in an ecstatic dance. This symbolizes the dead being brought back to life for a chance to celebrate with their loved ones. 

The altars are a very important aspect of the holiday. Altars dedicated to deceased loved ones are designed to display immense love and respect. These sentimental structures are decorated with pictures and belongings of the person who died, along with candles, butterflies, skulls and flowers. Additionally, many include aspects of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. Air is often represented by papel picado, or paper banners, earth by bread or other hearty foods, fire by candles and water by a pitcher of water. 

Altars are considered ofrendas, or offerings, for those who died. Offerings are meant to attract visits from the dead and supply them with what they may need on their journey. Along with beautiful decorations, a plethora of food is spread out on and around the altar. The most popular offerings are common Mexican dishes, but many also incorporate favorite foods of their loved ones. Most altars include mole, mezcal, skull-shaped cookies, tamales and atole. 

Though celebrations in North America are not as common and extravagant as those in Mexico, there are several observances in D.C. Parties, festivals, art galleries and other forms of cultural celebrations are seen throughout the week of the holiday. On November 6, there was a Día de los Muertos parade on the National Mall. The fifth annual festival lasted two hours and incorporated music, dancing, food and altars with offerings. 

While this special holiday can be somber for some, it is an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and celebrate the memorable lives that they led. Not only is it a chance to reunite with the dead, but it is also a way to strengthen personal relationships with those who are alive. Día de los Muertos brings communities together to observe their heritage.