An introduction to Dia de los Muertos

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2021

By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith/ Community Columnist

Fall and Halloween decorations are beginning to fill the community. Stores are sporting costumes, ready for trick-or-treaters and many yards have placed pumpkins and hay bales to greet visitors.

However, many other residents are preparing to celebrate a different holiday. Dia de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead” is an annual celebration that many Hispanic Americans observe. Made popular in the United States by the Disney movie, “Coco,” it is a four-day event in which homes make and decorate a table to remember their loved ones that have died. Jose and Linda Dominguez of Jemison are beginning to collect their holiday Dia de los Muertos decorations, which will be celebrated Octo. 30-November 2.

During the holiday, Dia de los Muertos many believe that their deceased loved ones will come to visit. Just like in the movie “Coco” deceased loved ones may be persuaded to visit their family, if their favorite earthly things are waiting on a table for them. Linda, who is well-known locally in the Hispanic community for her culinary skills, makes a spread of her loved ones favorite foods.

“I love this time of year because it is a time where our loved ones that have passed away come to visit us,” said Linda. “On the 30th, it is the night in which children can come to visit. The following day, the adults are able to come.”

The tables or “altars” are decorated with candles, flowers and a sweet bread specifically made for the occasion that is in the shape of bones. In Mexico, yellow flowers or marigold petals are frequently lined from the cemetery to the families’ home as a walking trail for the deceased. Each family decorates differently, but the Dominguez family makes a table for each family member that has died.

“On the altar, I will put their favorite things,” said Linda. “It can be their favorite colors, food, juice, cigarettes, apples, Chicken in Mole sauce (a popular Mexican dish), Pepsi or Coke … whatever they liked best in this life.”

A photo of the loved one is also an essential item on the table for the loved one to be remembered.

“Spirits looking for their family and home need to see their photo in order to be remembered,” said Linda.  “Otherwise, family remembering them will become lost.”

The tradition of celebrating and remembering the dead dates back thousands of years, but the current form of Dia de los Muertos is believed to have originated from the merging of Aztec native culture with Protestant Christian beliefs (who also widely use this week to remember their deceased loved ones during All Saints Day.) Many Christian churches across the world will light candles beside beloved church members’ photos on Oct. 31.

At the end of the fourth day of Dia de los Muertos , any item that has not spoiled such as fruit may be eaten and enjoyed by the family.