Dia de Los Muertos: A Tradition I Want to Keep Alive

Written by me and my sister

La Calavera

Halloween has always been one of our favorite holidays.  As kids, we’d always look forward to trick-or-treating, prepping our costumes and seeing how much candy we would get.  Over the years, our excitement for the Halloween season has remained the same. We like thinking outside of the box when it comes to our costumes for the year, planning treats and creating Boo baskets for the little members in our family.

Halloween has always been THE big holiday for us, but it wasn’t until recently that we became more aware of the fun traditions that are associated with our culture during this time. This year, we have had a special interest in diving into celebrating a little more than just Halloween. We have taken the initiative to learn about and celebrate Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead. After our mother’s passing earlier this year, we’d like to welcome her to visit our home on November 2nd through our beautiful culture and beliefs.

Dia de los Muertos (DDLM) is a festive celebration honoring and remembering our loved ones who have passed.  We always had the impression that Dia de los Muertos was not a time to celebrate, but rather a scary time.  As we were growing up, there was an honorable mention about people that had passed away followed by stories our mother would share about how DDLM was celebrated in her town of Puebla, Mexico.  It wasn’t until three years ago, when our uncle passed away that our mother began to put up a small altar, known as an “ofrenda”, to welcome his spirit back on Dia de los Muertos.  Since then, we became more aware of DDLM, probably because it was the first time we had experienced death in the family and wanted our uncle to come visit on this special day.  Up until that point, the stories that our mother had shared before felt so unreal because we didn’t know any of those loved ones that were no longer with us.  This year, we will put up our first ofrenda, without the help of our mother.  She will be our guest of honor on DDLM along with our other family members that have passed away. We are going to walk you through some of the things we have learned over the years that are quite interesting and beautiful to see. 

Dia de los Muertos is a two day celebration. November 1st celebrates the children and November 2nd celebrates the adults that have passed away. The DDLM traditions originated in Mexico by the Aztecs who left food for the souls to aid them through their journey to the Land of the Dead which took several years to get to. Over the years, the belief and tradition have evolved. It is believed that the deceased do not want to see us mourning or feel sad for their absences, so on DDLM the gates of heaven open up so they can come visit and celebrate with us. It is during the celebration of DDLM that we invite our loved ones by putting up ofrendas. DDLM is also celebrated throughout Latin America, but the celebration varies by country.

Inviting our loved ones through ofrendas is something we are looking forward to.  We want it to be colorful, festive and welcoming.  As we prepare for this day, we are planning their favorite meals and gathering everything that is said to be part of the ofrendas. 

I wanted to share with you this beautiful tradition that we will continue to carry on for years to come. Here are some defining characteristics that are specific to a Dia de los Muertos altar:

Picture of Loved One: It’s your invitation to your loved one, and it helps them cross over to visit you.

Arch: It represents the entrance to the world of the dead.

Marigold flowers: It is believed that the scent helps attract the souls of the dead to the ofrenda.

Offerings (Food/ Drinks): Our loved ones’ favorite meals and drinks are made available for them.

Candles: They help guide them to the altar.

Calaveras (Sugar Skulls): It is a lighthearted reminder of life’s cycle representing the sweetness of life.

Papel Picado (Perforated Paper): It represents how fragile life is.

Cup of Water: It is available for our loved ones because they might be thirsty after their long journey.

Alter Levels: A two level alter represents Heaven and Earth. A three level alter represents Heaven, Hell, and Earth. Seven levels represents the steps your loved one has taken to reach Heaven.

Monarch Butterflies: It is believed they hold the spirits of our loved ones

If you would like to add Dia de Los Muertos to your celebrations, here are some links to products we purchased to get you started:

Serape Table Runner:


Mini Papel Picado: