By Christian Erevia
For many, Nov. 1 begins the countdown to holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for Hispanic communities around the world, Nov. 1 and 2 mark Dia de los Muertos, celebrated as a way to remember deceased loved ones.
Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead” in English, falls on All Saints’ Day but is not a religious holiday.
“It is Mayan and Aztec, and it is still celebrated in the Caribbean islands,” said English Professor Irma Luna, who has organized Day of the Dead altars at this college. “They celebrate it differently in San Antonio than they do in New Orleans, but it is very popular in New Orleans.
“They have festivals in the cemeteries whereas here we go to the cemeteries and decorate the cemeteries,” Luna said.
While decorating cemeteries for Dia de los Muertos is normal in many countries in the Americas, the tradition is not always allowed in the United States. In response, it has become tradition for Dia de los Muertos participants create altars at home dedicated to their dearly departed.
“Constructing an altar is a way of honoring the dead,” Luna said.
Many cultures use altars to symbolize the dead’s proximity to the heavens, Luna said. Altars are decorated with food, candles and pictures.
The items all have a significance and are often things that the loved one would have enjoyed or need in the afterlife. Many people leave their loved one’s favorite food or alcohol.
Marigolds also decorate many Dia de los Muertos altars. The flowers symbolize sadness and mourning and are thought to lead deceased souls toward their altars.
“The tradition is not as closely followed as it used to be,” Luna said, “but if you go through the center of Mexico, it’s very big.”
After falling out of popularity since the 1950s, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Dia de los Muertos with it so close to Halloween.
“I think people confuse it as an extension of Halloween, and it really isn’t,” Luna said.
Despite being misconstrued with its rediscovery and introduction to pop culture, the holiday still holds meaning and significance for many in the Hispanic community.
“I think it’s important for the Hispanic community to keep it going,” Luna said. “When you assimilate into modern society, we lose some of our background.”
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated the evening of Nov. 1, which is dedicated to the deceased, while Nov. 2 remembers those who died in childhood. Nov. 2 is sometimes referred to as the Day of Innocence.
This year, students can find Dia de los Muertos events happening all around San Antonio.
This college will host a Dia de los Muertos 5K and 10K run-walk at 4 p.m. Oct. 29 in Lady Bird Johnson Park. La Villita will host Muertofest, which will include an altar-building contest, live music and a procession. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center will host an altar exhibit as well as a celebration at 3 p.m. Oct. 30.
Planet K will host a parade and fireworks show at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at Woodlawn Lake Park.
“Just because a person is dead doesn’t mean we forget them,” Luna said. “And the more we talk about them, the more they stay in our hearts.”