Dia de los Muertos Celebration

Whether you are hitting the town in your best costume or trick-or-treating from door to door, Halloween seems to be on the mind of every student during fall. Though for some, a different holiday is to be celebrated as well.

The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is celebrated every year on the first two days of November. Nov. 1 celebrates All Saints’ Day and Nov. 2 celebrates All Souls’ Day. Both of these holidays have a purpose of remembering the dead.

One of the main traditions of this holiday is setting up a table with offerings for loved ones who have passed away. These items could be pictures of the deceased, candles, flowers, fruit, sugar skulls, bread, or any object this person may have liked.

To display what one of these offerings might look like, Professor Michael Flanagan and some of his students have set up an ofrenda, which is used to honor the memories of the dead, in the Center of the Arts atrium.

“This ofrenda does not honor anyone in particular,” Flanagan said. “This display is a good example of what an ofrenda would look like if it was actually for someone.”

Flanagan and fellow Professor Max White have traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, multiple times. One year, the two of them were there for the celebrations of Día de los Muertos.

“At night, there is a festival-like gathering in the streets where there is dancing, music and skeleton costumes,” White said. “The atmosphere is amazing and the sound of the brass bands is just hypnotic.”

After a night of celebrating, family members go to the cemeteries in the morning to clean the graves of those who have passed.

“There are always so many people scrubbing away the dirt and grime,” Flanagan said. “Afterwards they place beautiful flowers on the graves.”

Senior Leticia Castillo used to celebrate Día de los Muertos with her family back when she lived in Mexico City, where they would remember her grandmother

“We used to set up a table and buy a lot of orange and yellow flowers, sugar skulls, bread and other foods,” Castillo said. “The aroma of the flowers and fruit was so distinct; it was an amazing smell.”

Flanagan said that the scent of flowers was one of the components that led the spirits of the deceased back to their loved ones. Another component was the good tasting food.

“We believed that your loved ones spirits came at night to eat the food,” Castillo said. “If the food didn’t taste like anything the next morning, then that means our loved one’s spirit came and ate the food.”

After Castillo moved to the United States when she was 12, she didn’t celebrate the holiday to the extent that she did in Mexico.

“I still buy the bread because it brings back the memories of those celebrations,” Castillo said. “The smell and the taste really take me back to my roots.”

Día de los Muertos looks at death as a celebration of the lives of those who have passed away, letting them know that they will not soon be forgotten.

“It’s very moving to see these celebrations happening and I find myself identifying with them,” White said. “I think many others could identify with Día de los Muertos too.”

Last year, Professors Michael Flanagan and Max White traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico during last year’s Nov. 2 celebration of Day of the Dead, which is a traditional Mexican custom for remembering the dead. From street festivals to skeleton costumes to sculptures to food offerings, Flanagan and White experienced an original “Dia de los Muertos.” The above pictures are from Flanagan and White’s Nov. 2, 2010 trip.

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