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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday my family celebrates every November 1-2, but is also celebrated by many Mexican families around the world. During both days, we take the time to remember and celebrate the lives of our loved ones who have passed away. I interpret the holiday as a chance to express the joy within them due to the pain and grief one initially feels after a loved one passes away. These two days are filled with marigolds, vibrant colors, and delicious food; it is a day when everyone gets to share stories with each other and come together to remember those people who were such important parts of our lives.

The Day of the Dead became my favorite holiday as I grew older due to understanding its true purpose and the importance behind it. In Mexico, there is a sense of interconnection between neighbors, co-workers, family members, and friends. “It takes a village” is a very legitimate saying when it comes to a community in Mexico. At least in my experience, every child is raised by everyone around them, everyone offers help to anyone and everyone feels a real sense of belonging, connection and pride to be a tight knit community. Throughout the years as babies are born and our ancestors pass away, my community in Mexico took true importance in celebrating and remembering the unique, hilarious, and captivating ways in which our loved ones lived their lives.

We do this by building and displaying altars in our homes, in cemeteries, and in churches. These altars are decorated with framed pictures of deceased loved ones, flowers, and colorful skull decorations. My favorite part of the altars is decorating the area around a specific family member with their favorite foods, drinks, or objects. My mother’s father was an alcoholic, and while she had a hard time experiencing a household with an alcoholic father, she still sets a full glass corona beer bottle right next to his picture. Some altars will have bagged chips, different drinks, cigarettes, and the most random things you could think of. They are ways of catering to our loved ones and showing them that we love them in a light-hearted way.

There are many captivating parts of this holiday with deeper meanings, and most of them are hidden within the altars. For example, in most altars you will find a cross made out of salt, which is placed in order to purify deceased souls and to keep them away from corruption. Altars are also decorated with marigolds – everywhere you turn, it’s a beautiful sea of orange petals. Marigolds, bright in color, are used to attract and guide souls to the altar and the ofrendas family members have prepared for them. Like marigolds and other objects, things like water, sugar skulls, different colored flowers, and incense all have a deeper meaning and are used for symbolism in this holiday. Not only is this holiday visually beautiful, but the symbolism and story behind is incredibly captivating.

The Day of the Dead is also known for “Pan de Muertos” (Bread of the Dead). Sweet bread and baked goods made up an incredibly important part of my childhood. I made memories and grew closer with my family members by baking and going to the bakery with my grandma and dad. There is a significance to food and the abundance of food in my father’s family since his dad often lacked sufficient food, and grew up in poverty. Since I was a child, my family made sure, no matter what, that the pantry was stocked and no one went to bed hungry. There might not have been enough money for much more, but it was important for my father to spoil his kids and make sure they had an abundance of food. Pan de Muertos is placed on the altars as another offering to those who have left us, it comes in a round shape and is decorated with bone-like structures across the top. It’s dusted with cinnamon sugar and has a hint of orange zest when you taste it. 

There are many parts about Dia de los Muertos that I adore. It’s a holiday that embraces my culture, celebrates our loved ones, and has deep and meaningful stories behind it. Ever since I moved away from my extended family, I’ve been able to celebrate this holiday with my parents and siblings. However, I miss the extravagant altars and beautiful marigolds that my grandma would display in her home as well as the delicious foods. It’s been wonderful to see movies like “Coco” and “The Book of Life” visualize how beautiful this holiday is and how special it can be for those who celebrate it. Dia de los Muertos is a unique way of honoring our loved ones who have passed away and are no longer with us. It is an opportunity to tell untold stories about them and to remember their lives and their presence on this earth.

My name is Sara and I am finishing up my Freshman year at Michigan State University. I am pursuing a Bachelors degree in Social Relations and Public Policy through James Madison college. I am passionate about philanthropy work and am interested in working in International Law or possibly land a job at UNICEF. When I’m not in class or doing homework I’m usually at the dining hall or eating snacks I’m a huge foodie. I love to try new foods and I especially love Mexican food because I am Mexican and lived there for several years. I also love music, Lana, Sza, Kali and so many other artists. I love going on walks and listening to podcast and I am currently trying to learn French.