By Allyson England Drake, M.Ed, CT

Dia de los Muertos, also known as “Day of the Dead” is a holiday that is celebrated all over the world on November 1st and 2nd each year. This Mexican holiday is full of traditions and ways to honor our deceased loved ones. Dia de los Muertos celebrates both death and life.  

Even if you haven’t celebrated this holiday in the past, we hope you will explore these inspirational traditions to discover ways you can honor and celebrate significant people in your lives who have died. 

  • Families or individuals usually create an altar, also known as an ofrenda or offerings, in honor of the deceased. Altars can be filled with items that remind them of their loved one, such as food items, candy, and pictures. These altars are welcoming the spirits of loved ones and the ofrenda (offerings) is dedicated to the person who died. According to tradition, altars must be placed by the evening of October 31st.  
  • Sugar skulls, or Calaveras, are often decorated to celebrate the holiday, often placed on the altars for the deceased. 
  • Many believe that since spirits are near and visiting the altars, it is a time that you are able to say anything that was left unsaid before the loved one died. 
  • On the last day, families often visit resting places of their loved ones and decorate them with marigolds, gifts, and sugar skulls. 
  • Marigold flowers are thought to serve as the guide for the spirts to visit the altars. They are referred to as the “Flor de Muerto” or flower of the dead. These marigolds represent the beauty as well as the fragility of life. 
  • The holiday is meant to be a celebration, and not a day of sadness or longing. Death is celebrated as a part of life, not the end of life.  In addition, this holiday helps those who are grieving to feel less alone in their grief because families can gather and spend time together in celebration of the deceased. 
  • Coco is a Disney movie that won two Academy Awards in 2017. Many individuals who celebrate Dia de los Muertos report that this movie is a very accurate representation of the holiday. Watching this movie and enjoying the theme song “Remember Me” is a great way to help children (and adults!) understand this holiday!

 Other ideas for celebration (shared from www.kchospice.org/day-of-the-dead-part-three):

  • Enlarge and frame a favorite photo for the mantle and add in some creative touches
  • Create a special remembrance box for mementos – something you can see and touch
  • Bake grandma’s favorite pie for Thanksgiving and tell a story about her
  • Take the family out to dad’s favorite restaurant on Fathers Day and remember the joke he used to tell
  • Give everyone a pair of socks for the holidays, just like mom used to do
  • Create a memory ornament for the Christmas tree
  • Fill a vase with your wife’s favorite flowers on her birthday
  • Raise a special toast on your loved one’s favorite holiday
  • Plant a tree or special flower that reminds you of your loved one
  • Keep telling the family stories, no matter how many times people have heard them
  • Keep the memories alive in your heart and mind
  • Remember that’s it’s okay to laugh