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Día de los Muertos spreading into mainstream culture

Posted at 12:26 PM, Nov 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-02 12:26:07-05

Every year around this time, Marta Valenzuela Moreno puts together an altar to remember family members who have passed.

“I have here to present my traditional family altar of Day of the Dead,” Valenzuela Moreno said.

It’s part of her tradition for el Día de los Muertos. In English, Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead is recognized on November 2. Ann Macca runs the Day of the Dead program in her community.

“El Día de los Muertos is an ancient holiday," Macca said. "It comes from Aztec traditions where way back hundreds of years ago, they would celebrate for a whole month in the summer, and they would honor their deceased loved ones. And when the Catholic church showed up in Mexico, they brought with them all their holidays and traditions. And so when the Catholic church met the Aztec traditions, they came together and Day of the Dead was born.”

Families of Mexican and Guatemalan descent create an altar for their ancestors. They thoughtfully arrange photos of their loved ones who have passed and surrounding the photos, they place their relative’s favorite foods, along with other items that honor what they loved and did while on Earth.

Even though they happen around the same time, el Día de los Muertos should not be confused with Halloween.

“Day of the Dead is a celebration of joy and welcoming where Halloween -- all of those skeletons, ghosts and ghouls -- those are spirits that you want to scare away," Macca said. "So, Halloween those are scary things, but in Day of the Dead, they’re your friends and your family and you want to see them and bring them back.”

“I can talk to them, sing to them and argue with them,” Valenzuela Moreno said.

Valenzuela Moreno says she feels a full range of emotions as she spends time with her mother, brothers and sisters who have passed.

“Sadness, happiness, rejoice... there are times to pray, to cry, because memories come back of all of them.”

Memories we have of relatives and the passion that emerges from them are things we all have in common. Macca says that’s likely the reason why the holiday has now entered mainstream culture.

“I think a lot of people who don’t come from a latinx tradition who don’t have Mexican or Guatemalan heritage are now starting to embrace day of the dead because it’s such a wonderful way to remember your loved ones,” Macca said.

Valenzuela Moreno says she welcomes any and all cultures to adopt the tradition she holds near and dear to her heart.

“The community needs to embrace this kind of celebration and feel part of it. And not be ashamed or scared.”

Valenzuela Moreno says she hopes future generations in her family will continue building an altar every year on Día de los Muertos, so she too can visit when her time comes to fly away.