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On All Saints’ Day About All Souls’ Day, aka Dia de los Muertos

Posted by sirensays on November 1, 2009


I hope you all are still enjoying the season of the dead with the cacophonous cawing of crows, the raucous ravenings of ravens, the misty mornings, the bright orange pumpkins on doorsteps, the turning of the leaves, the smell of woodsmoke in the air (which may be fainter this season due to burning restrictions), the angle of the autumn sun, the “falling back” today, which hopefully translated into more relaxation for you.

Today is All Saints’ Day, known officially as the Solemnity of All Saints, often referred to as All Hallows or Hallowmas. For many, Halloween is the big holiday, but in many parts of the world, Halloween is not celebrated much at all and the focus is on All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day, November 2. In areas with a heavy Latin American population, tomorrow is known as Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos). It’s also celebrated in Brazil, the Phillippines, certain European countries and the African diaspora.

Caucasians in the U.S. have been picking up on this holiday, as it’s filled with colorful folk art, ancient customs with syncretized Christianity and Indian pagan customs featuring offerings to the dead, ceremonies at graveyards, family get-togethers and altars built to honor the dead. It is often celebrated  in homes and neighborhoods, in communities of Latinos.They offer pan de muerto, sugar skulls, ceramic skulls, statues of Catrina (based on an old zinc etching by printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada) and Frida, skeletons of pets as well as people, flowers- namely marigolds, liquor, gourds, or the favorite meals of the deceased.


It’s not often shared with Caucasians unless Caucasians create the celebration themselves, participate in a large scale celebration, such as those held in Los Angeles, San Jose or San Francisco.


It is a holiday that is easily appropriated and misunderstood, even though the reality is that one doesn’t have to be Latino to understand it. Its Catholic roots are strong and I recall much of what I learned in Catholic school about it. Many Catholics quietly attend Mass, remembering their loved ones in prayers and candle lightings. But currently, non-Catholics who are interested in celebrating the dead are much more focused on the colorful Mexican celebrations, not the more somber-seeming, strictly Catholic ones.


We can watch videos such as these on youtube.com to get a sense of what it’s all about, experience the incredibly sensuous beauty of the ofrendas, the food, the pictures, the art. The Latinos who participate in El Dia de los Muertos, whether at church, in their home by building an ofrenda (altar) for offerings or with their community, don’t pay attention to what us gringos do. They politely tolerate us, for the most part. For one day of the year, many Americans want what the Mexicans have: an intact, living tradition that is beautiful, creative, loving, powerful, expressive, communal and ancient. The rest of the year, most Americans lacking in Latino roots couldn’t care less about Latino traditions. So if you’re lucky enough to be included in celebrating El Dia de los Muertos, show your respect and appreciation – learn a little bit ahead of time, ask questions and don’t behave as if it’s there for your entertainment or edification, because it’s not.  Remember that November 2 is to celebrate both life and death, which is something we can all appreciate.

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One Response to “On All Saints’ Day About All Souls’ Day, aka Dia de los Muertos”

  1. […] the article here: On All Saints’ Day About All Souls’ Day, aka Dia de los Muertos Uncategorized entertainment,ertainment-or-edification,there-for,your-entertainment You can […]

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