Why We Will Celebrate the Day of the Dead – Especially This Year


Our family celebrates Day of the Dead on November 2nd each year. We celebrate to remember my daughter’s Latino father who passed away in 2001, when she was four, of an opioid overdose. We adopted this holiday because I wanted my daughter to actively participate in remembering him. His birthday and the day of his death are difficult days. Having a separate holiday to celebrate his life is important for us. We cook his favorite foods, beans and rice, and set them out on the fireplace mantle. Symbolic of the path to his grave, we buy marigolds and sprinkle the petals from our door, down the walkway and down the street until we run out. We light candles and talk about our favorite memories of him.  

This year, I find this holiday to be more important than ever before. This pandemic has taken the lives of well over 200,000 people in this country and millions worldwide. There are so many people grieving the loss of family members without the ability to hold funerals or memorials. This may be the time to start a new tradition.

November 1st is All Saints Day and November 2nd is All Souls Day. Christians all over the world celebrate these two holidays. However, in Mexico, these holidays have become a celebration called, Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Its ever growing popularity brings tourists to Mexico, where it originated, to observe or take part in the festivities. In Mexico, there are parades and people wear elaborate costumes to look like skeletons.  Children decorate sugar skulls (calaveras de azúcar) which represent a departed soul. The holiday has spread to many cities, including Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and San Francisco. These celebrations are free to attend and honor the cycle of life and death.

Sugar Skulls - Celebrating Day of the Dead
Sugar Skulls


Curiosity and Reverence When Celebrating the Day of the Dead

Many Americans are curious about this holiday and what it means to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead costumes and decorations can now be found in stores at Halloween. Yet, don’t confuse Halloween with Day of the Dead. They are very different holidays and have different origins and meanings. Day of the Dead is a two-day holiday. November first remembers children who have died and November second is for deceased adults. 

Celebrate the Day of the Dead altarDay of the Dead festivities seem like a party, almost to be mocking death at first site.  However, it is a day to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed and to encourage the dead to come for a visit. Families bake bread shaped to look like a deceased loved one (pan de los Muertos), light candles, cook their favorite foods, and arrange them on an altar. Then, the procession starts to the cemetery where they are buried. Families bring their favorite drinks and food and lay them on the grave. Candles burn through the night and families make a path of marigold petals from the gravesite to the family home. People believe this path shows the dead the way home so they can return to visit. Pictures of the deceased family members are very important and are placed on the altar to let them know they are not forgotten. Despite the deep meaning of Day of the Dead, the mood is not somber. It’s a celebration of high energy and excitement.

Celebrating the Day of the Dead is about holding onto our loved ones, even if they are no longer with us. During this time of great loss and hardship, I invite you to explore this beautiful holiday celebrating life.