Library News

By: Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros
For: Red Rock News
Date: October 25, 2013

Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead

Every human group has a way to remember the dead. Día de los Muertos [Day of the Dead] is predominantly celebrated in Mexico and Central America, and more recently by Mexican Americans in the United States. During this celebration, it is believed that the almas [soul/spirit] of the dead are allowed to return home to visit with their living family or friends during the length of the celebration.

In preparation for the return of those departed, family and friends prepare ofrendas [altars] to welcome their loved ones home from the long journey back to the land of the living. This is a joyful time of festivity, prayer, and celebration, as the deceased return to visit with the people that fondly remember them. The holiday also coincides with the bountiful time of harvest. Aromatic foods like corn and fruit, favorite dishes, water, and salt, are placed as an offering to the dead, who are believed to partake in the meal set for them on the altar.

Ofrendas are built in cemeteries on the graves of the dead and/or in homes. They are decorated with photographs, along with personal items or articles that share information about the deceased. This includes items that humorously portray the vices of those departed (i.e. cigarettes or tequila bottle). Cempasuchil, a bright marigold native to Mexico, is used to decorate altars and make visible footpaths that guide the dead home.

Calaveras [stylized skeletons] are used to decorate ofrendas, candy (i.e. sugar skulls), bread, streamers, figurines, and masks. Calaveras are not meant to be morbid, dark, or overly mystical, but rather a playful and satirical view of death that accepts a human being’s inevitable mortality, as well as the presence of the dead during the celebration.

As a symbol, calaveras are meant to remind us that in the end, we will all die and all that will remain will be our bones. As a metaphor, the calavera playfully imitates scenes of everyday life to remind us not to take life too seriously. The calveras represent death as the great equalizer of life that does not discriminate based on socio-economic hierarchy or other inequalities endured while living.

Día de los Muertos is celebrated at the end of October into the beginning of November. The exact dates of the celebration and length of the holiday varies from region to region. Officially, Día de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, coinciding with the Catholic Church’s celebration of “All Saint’s Day” and “All Soul’s Day.” These holidays were introduced by the Spanish missionaries in the 1500’s as part of the push to convert indigenous people to the Catholic faith.

Today, the celebration stands as an example of the cultural fusion that took place between two civilizations following the conquest, and the resilience of indigenous civilizations to retain and adapt their sacred beliefs amidst a new western presence. Día de los muertos reflects ancient Mesoamerican beliefs in a transcendental soul, an afterlife, and the perspective that death and life are not two independent and isolated states, but rather co-mingling in our present reality. Presently, Día de los Muertos is practiced by more than 872 thousand indigenous people including more than 41 different ethnic groups in Latin America, among them the Mexica, also known as the Aztecs.

To learn more about the Dia de los Muertos, join us on Saturday, November 2, 2013 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. as Sedona Public Library celebrates Dia de los Muertos. You can also visit the library’s altar display from October 24th to November 8th. For more information on this event, please call the library at 928-282-7714 or visit our homepage at

Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros
Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News and is also presented on Sedona Biz.
Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros is the Latino Services Librarian at Sedona Public Library.