Creating an altar for deceased ancestors in order to keep their memory alive, families celebrate the long practiced rituals of Dia de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos was celebrated in the exhibit hall of the Civic Center in Lubbock on Nov. 4.
The event featured the work of Latino artists, offered cultural experiences through both traditional and modern performers, a Dia de Los Muertos cake decorating contest, a few children’s activities that offered cultural understandings, a classic car showcase, and offered some products from participating vendors.
Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican tradition that originated in the pre-Hispanic era and is mostly associated with Mexico. The holiday, which is usually celebrated Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, combines ancient Aztec customs and a celebration that the Spanish invaders brought to Mexico in the early 1500s. This holiday, which brings family and friends together, honors and remembers the dead, celebrating their memory with festivals, lively celebrations, food, and activities the deceased enjoyed in life.
The Spaniards, who saw death as the end of life, tried to abolish the holiday. However, the holiday refused to die. Since the Spaniards could not get rid of the holiday, they decided to make it more Christian by moving the date it was celebrated on so it coincided with All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day. It has been celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 ever since.
Families set up La Ofrenda (the altar), which is one of the most distinctive ways Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated. The altars pay respect to the Catholic and indigenous beliefs of the afterlife and is dedicated to family and friends. Once La Ofrenda has been made, it will either be displayed at the grave site of deceased family members or in the home. La Ofrenda has three levels: a top level that symbolizes Heaven; a middle level that represents earth; and the bottom level that symbolizes Mictlan, which is the Aztec underworld of the dead. Food, beverages, marigolds, prized possessions significant of a loved one, pictures of the deceased, Christian iconography, Calacus (skulls), sugar skulls, candles, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), Las mariposas (monarch butterflies), and paper banners are placed on La Ofrenda for different reasons.
The candles, paper banners, beverages, and food represent the four main elements of nature: fire, wind, water, and earth. However, the items do more than just represent the elements of nature. Candles (fire) attract the spirits to the altar by lighting the way to it. Paper banners represent the wind, beverages (water) are placed to quench the thirst of the spirits who are believed to travel to earth, and food (earth) represents the deceased’s favorite foods.
Pictures of deceased family members are placed on La Ofrenda in order to remember the loved ones who have passed away. Calacus are placed on La Ofrenda as a reminder of the inevitability of death. However, the sugar skulls are sugar candy, which is a reminder of life’s sweetness. Marigolds, also known as cempasuchitl (flower of the dead), represent the fragility of life, and the aroma helps lure the heavenly souls to earth. The petals are sprinkled on the floor leading to the altar to help guide souls to it.
Pan de Muerto is made with a skull and cross bones design on top as a sweet treat for the spirits. Las mariposas are believed to be the spirits of loved ones migrating to Mexico.
The deceased are celebrated because it is thought that the dead would be insulted by their family being sad and mourning their deaths. Families might also bring a huge feast to the graveyard when they visit so they can eat while they clean their loved one’s gravestones.
There are a lot of skeleton decorations during Dia de Los Muertos, including life-size paper skeletons, miniature skeletons, parade skull masks, dolls, and even the skulls of skeletons. Skeletons are posed in many different positions in order to portray the dead enjoying life. They might be positioned playing a guitar, dancing, making tortillas, and more. This helps remind family members of their ancestors, but also reminds themselves that death is a natural part of life, and one day they will be skeletons too. Dia de los Muertos awakens the dead from their eternal sleep so they can share the celebrations with their loved ones as well.
Joey Martinez was among the vendors at the Dia de los Muertos event. Martinez attended SPC in 2012 as a Design Communications major and in 2015 as a General Studies major. He is currently attending Texas Tech University, majoring in Fine Arts – Painting, with plans to graduate in December. Martinez said that he celebrates Dia de los Muertos by “participating in art events by displaying my art work.” He added that “the one thing that stood out were the people who were paying their respects to the Ofrendas.” He shared that his favorite part about the holiday, in general, is “spending time with family and friends to celebrate deceased family and friends.”
Angel Segura, recruitment officer for Lambda Theta Phi (a Latin Fraternity) at Texas Tech University, said they set up a table this year because they participated in the event the year before.
“It’s a great way to show the community that students on campus care about their culture,” said Segura, who added that seeing the large number of people at the event was his favorite part. However, the culture of Dia de los Muertos is what he enjoys most about the holiday.
Mariachi Gema, a mariachi band, has performed at the event the past three years.
“We like to play for this event because we get to celebrate this holiday with the community,” said Jessica Rodriguez, a member of Mariachi Gema. “She also said that their favorite part about the event and the holiday is when they get to perform.
“It’s fun,” Rodriguez added, “and we got a great response from the audience. But also, music is a big part of our culture, and we use it every day and at all life events.”
Rodriguez explained that the music they play is heard through many generations “and we are connected to it.”
“For this particular day, we can play a song that helps remind somebody of their loved one that had passed on , and we get to help celebrate their life,” she added.
Dia de los Muertos is a very sacred day for many families. It is a day when they join together to remember the memories and souls of those people who were – and still are- an important part of the family, even though they have passed on from the earth to continue life elsewhere.