The Meaning Behind Día de los Muertos

One time a year, our departed come back to celebrate with us

Enrique Meseguer via Pixabay

You’re probably a bit familiar with the two-day holiday filled with bright colors, face painting and, of course, skeletons! But do you know what are the basic elements that have to be on an ofrenda (altar)? Or that each and every single part of the holiday has a purpose and meaning? From sugary skull candies to incense on the altar, people everywhere can learn about Día de los Muertos and why it’s so important to our culture.

Día de los Muertos is a time from October 31 – November 1, where families get together to honor their loved ones who have passed. It has been thought of as a time for families to mourn but this a HUGE mistake; in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Día de los Muertos is meant to be a time of celebration and remembrance. We do that by dancing in the streets, painting ourselves, baking fresh goods and decorating the ofrenda.

So where does all of this take place? It takes place in where one has been buried after they are dead, the cemetery. Just as you need to clean a house before you can renovate it, families clean the grave to decorate with special elements. This is also usually the site of where the ofrendas are put up.

Ofrendas, the centerpiece of this aesthetic holiday, is the pinnacle of honoring the dead. Each decoration/element represents something. For example, orange flowers, or cempasuchiles, represent the person’s time here on earth. Salt and water represent purity and a simple beverage for the spirits to drink to quench their thirst after the long journey from the land of the dead.

Some people see this holiday as the “Mexican Halloween,” but that’s not it at all. So next time you see others start putting up colorful decorations and elements on the altar, remember that the meaning and purpose: a time to show off our beloved ones who now live in the Land of the Dead.