Día de los Muertos

An important Latin-American holiday follows Halloween: Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

The holiday is celebrated on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, Nov. 1 and 2 respectively. It honors loved ones who have passed, and represents an interesting mixture of Catholic and indigenous religious traditions.

Celebrations include making a memorial altar and visiting the graves of dead relatives and friends.

Lacking are scary costumes, horror movies and trick-or-treating.

Cemeteries are filled not with mourners but lively festivities celebrating the lives of the passed.

The purpose of the holiday, according to author H. Byron Earhart, is to reconnect the living and the dead in “an atmosphere of communion and spiritual regeneration.”

Festive altars are decorated with brightly-colored flowers, candles, sugar skulls (called Calaveras), fruit, photos and sentimental objects commemorating the dead.

Altars may also be made to commemorate victims of attacks, like Columbine or 9/11, or those who have lost their lives to AIDS and other illnesses, according to author Ladislao Loera.

The purpose of the altars, contrary to some misconceptions, is not to resurrect the dead.

“There are people who believe that those building an altar are trying to raise the dead,” Loera writes. “This can’t be farther from the truth, because the belief is that the dead are never really gone, so raising them would be redundant.”

Día de los Muertos celebrations vary by country, region and culture.

Some communities boast large public altars, some measuring 10 feet high by 50 feet long. Others feature cemetery processions and altar decorating competitions.

The two-day holiday illustrates a sharp contrast between traditional North American and Latin American views of death.

“By building an altar we are acknowledging that we go on and that not being physically present isn’t the same as being gone,” Loera writes.

Many Hispanic and Latino immigrants in the United States bring their Día de los Muertos customs with them.

In Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood, Mexican markets sell Calaveras, flowers and Pan de Muerto, sweet sugarcoated bread celebrating the dead.

Check out Los Alamos Market y Cocina, located at 16th and Summit streets, or Abarrotes y Tortilleria Mexico at 806 Southwest Blvd., for a local, authentic Mexican market.


Contributions by Greta Moore


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