Reflection on Day of the Dead

From Carlos Velazquez ’23, Communications Major and International Student

The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Catholic holiday celebrated between the days of November 1st and 2nd. Originating in Pre-Columbian America, different native groups believed that the loss of a loved one should not be mourned. When the Europeans arrived in North America, they realized the festivity had similarities with their own Catholic traditions like All Saints Day and All Souls Day. So they added their own Catholic influence, and created the celebration we know today.

In general, the tradition includes building a three-layer altar in the home or a common space. Starting from the top and working your way down, these layers symbolize Heaven, the land of the living, and the ground where people are buried.  

Mexico is primarily the country that celebrates this holiday. But throughout Latin America, there are different ways it is honored.  For instance, in Ecuador, different breads have  different meanings than the “panes” used in Mexico. In some areas of Guatemala and Belize, Day of the Dead is celebrated by people of Mayan descent, with traditional Mayan dishes brought to the altar. 

Another difference between cultures is what they place on the altar.  The Mayans showcase sugar skulls (“calaveritas”), created with “azucar,” their ancestors’ favorite ingredient.  Pan de Muerto,  along with an alcoholic beverage, marigolds, incense, salt, and candles, sometimes accompanies photographs of deceased relatives. 

Here at Albertus, these traditions are recognized and honored.  With our growing Latinx population on campus, making everyone feel welcome is an important aspect of our Dominican Community value pillar.  Students, staff and faculty set up an altar at the Hubert Campus Center – literally the campus’ “living room” where students come to hang out or attend events. The Day of the Dead is gaining in popularity, partly because of its commercialization here in the United States. Latin Americans like myself are very proud of our culture, and more than happy to share it with others. There is a Mexican expression: “You truly die when you are forgotten.” With so many coming together for this, forgetting is not an option.  

Sitting  down with Sister Ana González, OP, we talked about the importance and meaning of this holiday. Sister said it brought back memories of her childhood, when she used to go with her mother to the bakery, the great times around her family commemorating the lives of her ancestors. 

She explained, “More than anything, Dia de los Muertos is a Catholic feast day that allows us to ritualize and remember the valuable lives of those that are important to us and are now participating in the communion of saints.” 

Losing a family member or friend isn’t easy, but the Day of the Dead is a way to lift up the legacy of those who have gone before us.

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