Day of the Dead traditions commemorate lost family members

Alex Lisa | Staff Writer

Skeletons and skulls are all associated with Halloween. A different holiday, however, has been using them as a symbol for a millennia longer.

Though it originated in Mexico, “Dia de los Muertos,” or The Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated around the globe where families honor the memory of their deceased family members. From October 31 to November 2, families build altars, host parties, and display food for when they believe their relatives travel closer to the world of the living. The most familiar symbols of the holiday are the skeletons and skulls. Those symbols are often misidentified as costumes or decorations for Halloween, a misconception which freshman Jaime Lopez said is frustrating.

“It’s the difference between a fun and goofy costume and respect of the dead,” Lopez said. “Some people think that the Day of the Dead and Halloween are the same thing. Most latino friends I have, we all get triggered cause they’re mixing the two holidays, and one has no importance, it’s just dressing up as monsters and getting candy.”

Senior Jessica Lopez, Jaime’s sister, said the holiday is an opportunity to remember their grandmother. Each year they build an altar and do activities which she loves doing.

“It’s when we really remember her and celebrate her life,” Jessica said. “She died when I was young, so if it weren’t for this holiday I don’t know how well I would be able to remember her after so many years.”

Decorations signify the deeper meaning behind the holiday, such as flowers and “papel picado,” a type of paper that has a design cut into it. These colorful decorations are junior Alfredo Gonzalez Espitia’s favorite part of the celebration.

“Back in Mexico, the entire community gets involved, and the decorations are everywhere,” Espitia said. “Obviously that isn’t here in America, but what my family does here is like a taste of it. It’s such a big deal, you have to go to extremes, and it’s beautiful and fun.”


Junior Alfredo Gonzalez Espitia has continued his celebrations of Day of the Dead from Mexico to America with his family.


Freshman Leslie Ortiz also said she misses the celebrations from Mexico. After moving here five years ago, she was disappointed to learn there were so few people in her community who celebrated.

“We celebrated it for a good week,” Ortiz said. “In Mexico it is bigger, there are parades and people with makeup and there’s stands, and people going out at night with sparklers. It’s just really different, and it’s sad because my family is gradually starting to celebrate less.”

Ortiz’s family, like many others, leaves out food and drink that their relatives enjoyed when they were alive. 

“We put their picture out, and on the altar we put food and drinks and things,” Ortiz said. “It’s like an invitation to come in, because we believe that their spirits can visit during the Day of the Dead. And the food and drink is for them, because they can eat it spiritually, just energy-wise after their journey.”

Jaime Lopez said the decorations and celebration might seem like they do not belong in a holiday involving deceased loved ones. He was confused himself when he was younger.

“At first I thought it was weird, because I thought you’re supposed to be sad about your family passing away,’” Jaime said. “But you’re celebrating the life they had, and doing it with the family still there with you. It’s about being appreciative of your family, and expressing your love and respect.”


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Photos by Henri Robbins.