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Día de los Muertos: Then and Now

Día de los Muertos altar outside of the Intercultural Center [Meredith Ashton / The Index]. Día de los Muertos altar outside of the Intercultural Center [Meredith Ashton / The Index].

Around 3,000 years ago, the Aztecs celebrated death as a natural part of life. Instead of Aztec children running rampant one evening a year, spooked by caricatures of bony skeletons and spectral ghosts in pursuit of sacks of candy, the Aztecs embraced death as an integral aspect of the human experience.

These indigenous peoples from modern-day Mexico didn’t mess around with the whole “one night a year” business, either. In accordance with the dreams of many children today, the Aztecs celebrated the lives of their deceased ancestors for an entire month during the summer, according to the National Geographic article Día de los Muertos. After the Spanish colonization of Latin American in the 16th century, the holiday was reduced to two days and shifted to the fall to coincide with the Catholic celebration of All Soul’s and All Saint’s day.

The modern celebration is a mix of the indigenous Aztec rituals and the Catholic traditions brought by the Spanish conquistadors. Although it originated in Mexico, the holiday is now celebrated throughout the world, with specific customs and traditions varying depending on one’s location.

On Friday, October 28th various student organization hosted a Día de los Muertos event on the quad to celebrate the lives of those who have passed and Latinx culture as a college community. The event was a collaboration between the Women of Color Alliance, Latin Student Organization, M.E.Ch.A, Black Student Organization, and  Asian Pacific Islander Student Association.

“The event was very lively, which is what Día de los Muertos is supposed to be like because even though we celebrate those who have passed we try to do so by celebrating the life they spent with us,” said Maribel Blas-Rangel, K’17, who attended the celebration.

The holiday celebrates the lives of deceased relatives with food, beverages, parties, and activities that the dead enjoyed in life. According to Mexican tradition, it is believed that between November 1st and November 2nd the spirits of the dead join with the community of the living to share in the Día de los Muertos celebrations.

One popular tradition is for families to create ofrendas, or altars, inside of the home decorated with candles, marigolds, fruit, and traditional foods such as pan de muerto sweet bread), calacas (skeletons), and calaveras (skulls). The calaveras, or sugar skulls, are colorfully-decorated candies that normally contain the name of a departed love one on their foreheads.

The K event featured an altar with candles, photographs, and traditional foods enjoyed by departed family members such as rice, beans, and arroz con leche. Additionally, there were boxes bearing the names of departed Latinx celebrities with a small biography detailing their distinguished careers.

“Another thing that really touched me was the commemoration and homage to the lives that were lost in the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub,” said Blas-Rangel.

An ofrenda can be found outside of the Intercultural Center in Hicks. The altar includes, flowers, photographs, drinks, and paper and pens with which students and faculty may write messages to departed loved ones.

“I’m personally very thankful for the event because although my immediate family does not celebrate it, it is something that we believe in, it’s a part of my culture to celebrate the lives of our loved ones who have passed away,” said Blas-Rangel.

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Día de los Muertos: Then and Now