Celebrating the Day of the Dead


Cam High had a Dia de los Muertos altar in the library to celebrate the holiday. Photo by: Ian Lattimer

Dia de los Muertos altar displayed in Ms. Soberanis’ room B-3. Photo by: Ian Lattimer

Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, is a multi-day celebration from Nov. 1 to Nov. 2 for family members and friends that have passed away.

This holiday is also known as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the Catholic calendar.

The holiday originated in central and southern Mexico and is celebrated by those of Hispanic heritage all around the world. The ancient Aztecs started the tradition about 3,000 years ago, and it has evolved over the years. However, the main concept remains the same: rather than fearing death and mourning losses, the achievements accomplished during life are honored.

The holiday is celebrated with colorful altars decorated with ofrendas, or offerings, which are assembled to honor and celebrate the passing of loved ones from all generations. Offerings normally include water, food, candles, incense, flowers, and personal belongings.

Other traditional activities include Mariachi bands playing in the streets, dancing, making sugar skulls, and scattering flowers on the ground. Marigold flowers are believed to invite souls to earth, and their petals are sprinkled onto paths that lead to altars with ofrendas, while incense is used to communicate with the spirit world. It is also a common belief that monarch butterflies carry the souls of deceased ancestors.

At times, the holiday is compared to Halloween, a primarily American tradition that is celebrated with trick-or-treating, horror nights, and haunted houses. However, the Day of the Dead is a different type of holiday with lively colors, celebrations of loved ones, and an abundance of food and dancing.

Campos’ display of an altar with pictures of loved ones who have passed away. Photo by: Ian Lattimer 

In recent years, movies depicting the bright holiday have been produced, including, Pixar’s Coco (2017) and The Book of Life (2014) that are bringing attention to this Hispanic tradition.

Mr. Pascual Campos, one Cam High’s Spanish teachers, has been making ofrendas at the school for about 25 years. He received a certificate about 17 years ago from the Mexican Consulate for maintaining these traditions. “As long as we remember the parted ones, they are never completely forgotten,” said Campos.

Cam High’s librarian, Ms. Heidi Resnik, assembled an altar in the entrance of Cam High’s library to celebrate the holiday. The altar has decorative crepe paper, candles, lights, flowers, fruit, sugar skulls, and crosses. Students and staff were invited to bring in pictures of their family members who passed away to put in the frames on the altar. “We’re just here to celebrate all the loved ones who have gone on before us,” said Resnik.