Upstate Familyt Resource Center


El Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead

El Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead

22 Nov, 2022  /  by Upstate Family Resource Center

Nora Curiel-Munoz, PASOs of Spartanburg Coordinator

Día de los Muertos acknowledges the symbiotic relationship between life and death. El Día de Los Muertos is celebrated on the 2nd of November, On this day, spirits of the dead are believed to return home and spend time with their families and friends.

This is a Mexican Indigenous festivity that has been passed down through many generations. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognized this tradition as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2008. It is the first Mexican cultural practice to be recognized.

Jose Guadalupe Posada created the image of the Catrina, the feminine face of death, nowadays Catrinas are icons of Mexican culture and it is a combination of the indigenous and Spanish cultures. The image shows the work of the artist Gabriela Preciado, who enjoys painting different versions of the Catrina. More of her work can be seen by following this link.

During November, Mexican families build altars to welcome souls, also known as ofrendas. These ofrendas have many components that vary among cultures. Most of them include marigolds, candles, photos of the deceased ones, papel picado or cut tissue-paper designs, as well as food and beverage offerings for the dead.

Ofrendas include elements symbolizing different ways to welcome the souls back home, some of these elements are described below:

  • Calaveras/Skulls: They are made of sugar or chocolate, and they symbolize the sweetness of life. Skulls are decorated with bright colors and they are usually handmade.
  • Flores/Flowers: there is a variety of flowers used to decorate the ofrendas, like Orchids, Cempasúchil, Caléndula, Terciopelo or Garra de León, Nube, Clavel and Crisantemo. The most common used are Cempasuchil (Marigold), often referred to as flowers of the dead (flor de Muerto), it’s believed that these flowers attract the souls to the altar. Some people refer that the bright yellow color is like the sunshine. For others, they represent a path for the souls to find their way back home.
  • Papel Picado/Perforated Tissue Paper: the delicate nature of the paper symbolizes the fragility of life. In the past these were handmade.
  • Pan de Muerto/The Bread of the Dead: this delicious bread is a basic element in the Day of the Dead ofrendas, this delicious rounded bread has limbs to mimic the shape of crossbones and is finished with a delicious touch of sugar. In addition, the ofrenda includes other traditional Mexican dishes, candies, and drinks that the people honored liked when they were alive.
  • Cruz de Sal y Agua/ Salt set out in the pattern of a cross and water: helps purify the souls and quench the thirst of the souls after a long trip. Water also purifies and cleanses.
  • Fotografias/Pictures. On the altar are placed pictures of friends or family members who are deceased, it is a belief that placing the pictures allows the souls to visit their loved ones. Many pictures can be present on the ofrenda.

Ofrendas can have 2, 3, or 7 levels or steps, and each level represent different things according to the culture of different regions. For example, in the Otomi culture, the seven steps represent the seven deadly sins.

Among the ofrendas, Mexicans like to write short poems called Calaveras (Literary Skulls) making fun of friends and family members encountering death.

Below you can read a Calavera in Spanish translated to English making fun of a Bullfighter found on the web:

Al torero

Aquí yace un buen torero,

que murió de la aflicción

de ser mal banderillero*,

silbado en cada función;

ha muerto de un revolcón

que recibió en la trasera,

y era tanta su tontera

que en el sepulcro ya estaba

y a los muertos los toreaba

convertido en calavera.


Here lies a good bullfighter,

Who died of grief

From being a bad banderillero,

Booed at each performance;

He has died of a tumble

Received on the rear

And such was his foolishness

That he was already in the tomb,

Turned into a skull and bones.

And fighting the dead.

Translated by Lisa and Monique

 Calaveras – Skull Poems & The Danse Macabre (

Mexicans have celebrated this tradition for centuries in many different ways and this tradition has crossed borders around the world.

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