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La Dia de los Muertos

Updated on May 26, 2011

Living in Southern California, I'm exposed to celebration of many cultures.  The biggest among them is the Mexican festivity in November called Dia de los Muertos, which translates to Day of the Dead in English. 

Traditionally celebrated on November 2, it is sometimes wrongly associated with Halloween.  I said wrongly because the Aztec-based Dia de los Muertos has nothing to do with the Celtic-based Halloween, although both are associated with death and known for prominent displays of skulls and skeletons.

Dia de los Muertos has been an indigenous celebration long before Spain conquered Mexico.  Spanish and church officials at the time have been unable to succesfully erase the longtime annual festivity from Mexico's native culture.  Instead, it has been absorbed into Catholicism over time.

Today, similar observances occur in different parts of the world, including the Philippines, USA, Prague, Czech Republic, and others.  The practices in the USA are essentially the same as the ones in Mexico since the US has various large Mexican communities in different regions.

Although Dia de los Muertos is an occasion for deceased friends and family members, the mood is one of celebration and not of mourning.  The atmosphere is that of a fiesta, rather than a funeral.  It's a reunion!  The spirits of the dead rejoin with the living for a family party.

Art of Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is gaining more and more traction into mainstream culture.  This can be exemplified in a few modern frills such as a line of Dia de los Muertos helmet from Icon Alliance.  Skulls in the fashion of Dia de los Muertos art adorn the helmet for riders of motorcycles and scooters.  How cool is that?!

Another one that I've been seeing for a few years now are Dia de los Muertos belt buckles. I often see these from specialty merchants in Olvera Street. Also, some shops in a nearby mall where I live have displayed these clothing accessories along with Dia de los Muertos bracelets. The same with shirts, patches, and other clothing apparels.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Dia de los Muertos styrofoam skulls.  Source: Flickr catboxartstudioDia de los Muertos skeletal Mariachi figures.  Source: Flickr Texas to MexicoDia de los Muertos pastels. Source: Flickr jenniferbeinhacker.com
Dia de los Muertos styrofoam skulls.  Source: Flickr catboxartstudio
Dia de los Muertos styrofoam skulls. Source: Flickr catboxartstudio
Dia de los Muertos skeletal Mariachi figures.  Source: Flickr Texas to Mexico
Dia de los Muertos skeletal Mariachi figures. Source: Flickr Texas to Mexico
Dia de los Muertos pastels. Source: Flickr jenniferbeinhacker.com
Dia de los Muertos pastels. Source: Flickr jenniferbeinhacker.com

What I consider to be the most traditional of them all are Dia de los Muertos folk arts.  These are typically prints or paper mache sculptures of skeletons and skulls.  Some are sugar candy that you can eat, but in the shape of skeletons.  I also like figurines in the shape of skeletal Mariachi.

Ofrenda de Dia de Muertos

A staple among the festivity to celebrate Dia de los Muertos is the ofrenda, a decorated shrine tributing dead family members.  Although an ofrenda may look like an altar to some observers, it is not an instrument for worship.  A large majority of Mexicans are Catholics.  Hence, they only worship God.  An ofrenda is for comemorating a deceased friend or relative.  It's also considered a work of art, folk art to be exact.

Dia de los Muertos Ofrenda. Source: Flickr groovehouse
Dia de los Muertos Ofrenda. Source: Flickr groovehouse

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