Dia De Los Muertos: A Time To Remember


Angie Ybarra, Writer

The last few years have been a challenge for many families, especially the ones that celebrate Dia De Los Muertos. Yes, the day is dedicated to our loved ones and remembering the lives that they led but these last few years have been a challenge for many. The loss of loved ones through natural disasters, mass scenes of violence, or the pandemic makes (?) it difficult to memorialize our loved ones. The days are set aside for the remembrance of our ancestors and what meaning they had in our lives, what memories we have of them, and even the foods they loved while they were here on earth. When you talk about Dia De Los Muertos today, many think of the Disney movie “Coco” which did a wonderful job of capturing key symbols of this specific holiday. The flowers, skeletons, and other items placed on a family’s offerenda make each other a unique depiction of a family and their loved one who has passed on. The population of NEIU is predominantly Latinx and a great number of the student body will celebrate the days. Our university has a satellite at El Centro in the Avondale community that is offering a number of free events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and the Day of the Dead as well. Please visit www.neiu/elcentro for more information. 


Usually celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, the events of the holiday can spread across Oct. 31 through Nov. 6. Mexicans usually celebrate the celebration, but it has spread to wherever Mexicans live in the world. An altar is erected and each level has a meaning to it. In fact, everything that adorns the altar is meant to represent something of importance or something that represents our departed relative. If you stop and think for a moment, the celebration of Dia De Los Muertos is a very special opportunity to encourage visits from the deceased family member as the altars are given a special space within their family’s homes or even at the departed’s grave site. A picture or pictures of the loved ones is surrounded by memorabilia that represent things that they enjoyed while on earth; their favorite foods, a cool glass of wine, their favorite drink tequila, mezcal, atole, or pulque, sweet pieces of bread, and much more are placed on the altar. The altars are color celebrations of life. The day’s origin is hard to place as All Souls Day and All Saints Day are also celebrated on these days and seem to represent the European way of remembering the dead. Marigolds are the flower of the dead, so they adorn the altar. 


This NEIU student keeps her altar up year-round. I feel celebrating the lives of our loved ones should be done every day that we can. I often add to the altar and of course during the actual celebration days I kick it up a notch and often play the music that my loved ones enjoyed, I toast to the lives of my loved ones. Offering a rosary to the Virgin Guadalupe in remembrance of my loved ones and the life we shared with all the special memories I have with them and of course candles are lit to light their way to the families’ homes. I feel like these days are a special gift to those left behind, and of course to our departed, as we have a unique opportunity to celebrate life. 

If you are looking to see how to set up your own altar please reference the attached guide or you can visit the National Museum of Mexican Art, located in the Pilsen neighborhood, it offers all that visit a unique opportunity to submerge themselves in Mexican culture. https://nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org/events/dia-de-los-muertos-xicago-2


Here is a useful guide to how to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos by building your own altar. FOLLOW THESE STEPS TO CREATE YOUR OWN DAY OF THE DEAD ALTAR:

1 – Arrange the boxes, crates, or books on your table to create levels 

2 – Place the colorful tablecloth over the table and boxes 

3 – Hang Papel Picado over your altar or drape it on the edge of your table 

4 – Place your photos on the highest level. If you have several photos, you can place them on the other levels as well

5 – Add a candle next to each of your photos

6 – You can place any personal belongings of the departed next to their photos

7– You may choose to place your family member’s favorite drink next to their picture 

8 – Add in the sugar skulls, marigolds, extra candles, water, and food on the lower levels in a pleasing arrangement

9 – Place the incense on the center of the lower level, making sure it has plenty of room to breath

10 – Think of your family members and friends as you light each of the candles

There is no wrong way to build an altar or celebrate a loved one. While traveling through Mexico, you will find that different regions have different customs and beliefs tied to these very special days. These are guidelines to help get you started. The most important thing is to honor and remember your loved ones that have passed. To keep their memory alive by celebrating them and sharing their stories. The intention here is to feel the love for your family members as you remember them. 


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