Dia de Los Muertos: Rituals and Traditions

National Hispanic Cultural Center

Synthesized between Mesoamerican beliefs and European influences Dia de los Muertos gives people the opportunity to remember loved ones with traditional offerings.

Sugar skulls are a common gift for children and decoration for the Dia de los Muertos.

Ofrendas are set up to remember and honor the memory of ancestors. Often ofrendas include Catholic religious symbols with Mesoamerican influences. Influences like the ritual of including a person’s tools alongside the body before cremation followed by 80 days of placing food and water at the family or temple altar. The Nahua people welcomed their deceased by shouting their names - leading them to elaborate offerings of food, water, tobacco, new clothes and tools. Those who do not build altars, do, for the most part, follow the Spanish/European customs of taking flowers and cleaning graves, like Memorial Day in the United States.

Día de los Muertos traditions carry a uniquely Mexican stamp, but in essence they are a fusion of pre-Columbian rituals and European beliefs brought by the Spanish to Mesoamerica. At the core Día de los Muertos traditions and rituals retain the primary mission of honoring, remembering and celebrating the life of all those who have come before us; as well as giving hope to our own inevitable mortality.

This community ofrenda for Dia de los Muertos features David Bowie.

Patrick was a soccer player who was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy and died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at 29. The ofrenda was created by artists Kenny Chavez and David Santiago for Dia de los Muertos.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center's float for the Dia de los Muertos y Marigold Parade on Nov. 6, 2016, was created by a team of staff, volunteers and local artists who took the prize for best in show.

Cultures develop unique means of coming to terms with death. In Mexico, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations have developed to such an extent that they are widely considered an integral part of Mexican identity.

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