Día de los Muertos: origin, culture and forced trendsetter

Día de los Muertos is a long standing celebration of life within Mesoamerican and Mexican culture. Though the tradition as we know it today was influenced by Roman Catholic practices, the celebration differs depending on who officiates it.

The ignorant association with Halloween has for years brought upon an apocalypse of catrina costumes, setting up the perfect example of what cultural appropriation is.

The latest development is the sale of a miniature version of a Día de los Muertos altar. However, I’m not a fan of a corporation selling something that you could usually only find at specific locations, like a flea market where smaller businesses sell their goods.

Although global cultural representation is long overdue, it shouldn’t be at the expense of seeing these traditions be used as a trend for social media. This practice has molded the way the Latine community sees death and the afterlife.

Dia de los Muertos, or Miccailhuitontli, originally started as a sacrificial ritual held by the Aztecs towards the“end of the rainy season and the mexica year,” according to an article published by The Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) in San Antonio, Texas.

This ritual was not only held to honor the dead, but to also honor Huitzilopochtli, the god of sun and war, Tezcatlipoca, the god of night and sorcery, and Yacateuctli, the god of commerce and travelers. Miccailhuitontli was a two day celebration. Very similar to how we celebrate Día de los Muertos, except we don’t partake in sacrificial rituals. As a matter of fact, the only reason this celebration drifted from being a sacrificial ritual to having some involvement within Roman Catholic practices was because of colonization.

During the colonization of the Aztec civilization, evangelism began spreading as a means to end all Mesoamerican sacrificial practices. Which in turn gave us a mix between Miccailhuitontli and All Saints Day resulting in what we now know as Día de los Muertos.

Organizations like Centro Del Pueblo, host workshops at El Jardin Santuario before the celebration takes place, with the purpose of informing people about what this day is, what it means, and why it’s celebrated. El Centro Academico Cultural de Cal Poly Humboldt also hosts Día de los Muertos events and activities, so keep an eye out for these events.

And remember, our culture is not your costume or a trend.

Ofrendas de Dia de los Muertos Key Components

Graphic by Raul Cano

There are many objects that make up this celebration alter, those of which are:

1. Pan de muerto, which represents the skull and bones of the deceased as well as their complete circle of life.

2. Marigolds which represents a guiding light and creates a path for the souls to follow so that they can reach the altar.

3. The incense and pictures placed on the altar are also meant to help the souls find their way back to their families and altar.

4. Sugar skulls tend to have the name of the deceased written on them and are used as a symbol of life rather than death.

5. The water placed on the altars is meant for these souls to drink out of to quench their thirst since it is believed that the journey back is a long one.

6. Last but not least, home cooked traditional dishes are also placed as an offering on the altar. By doing so, the souls get to once again indulge in their favorite foods.

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