Reflections on Dia de los Muertos


I’ve always loved Dia de los Muertos, or as most Americans know it, The Day of the Dead. I’m also fortunate to know a Mexican family who lives here and celebrates the holiday most years, by setting up a beautiful altar in their store. This year I asked if it was okay to do a little photo essay about this, and they let graciously allowed me.

A couple of concepts that I love about this holiday:

▪ I love the idea that a person lives as long as the last person alive can remember them.

What a lovely idea! As long as you discuss your long-dead relatives with your children and grandchildren, they are kept in memory, and thus kept “alive.”

▪ The Monarch butterflies’ arrival to Michoacán coincides with Dia de los Muertos.

There is a very strong belief that the butterflies are the returning spirits of the local’s deceased relatives. As a lover of  Monarch butterflies, this is a concept that sings to my heart and my love of the spiritual.


The store that I speak of here in Honolulu is called Mercardo De La Raza. They offer often hard-to-find Latin groceries, fresh produce, and sometimes specialty items like piñatas and sugar skulls. Reynaldo wasn’t there when I went to visit, but his mom Martha was. Reynaldo has explained a bit more about the holiday in previous years, and Martha reiterated what he told me.

He explained to me that the holiday actually lasts over two days~ the first is dedicated to honoring deceased children and infants, and the second is for the adults. There really is nothing morbid about these days, because Mexicans see this as their relatives coming back during these days to spend them with their loved ones.

Food is put out on the altars along with other offerings or ofrenda, so that the spirits may  absorb the energy of the food, which nourishes them in a non-physical way. Salt is put out, because it represents the continuance of life. Water is also put out~ it’s a long journey back here from the “other side,” and the spirits tend to be thirsty, when they arrive. Sometimes there are sugar skulls, though were none this year, and frequently there is candy for the children.

Then there are the skeletons~ what makes the holiday so beautiful to me, are the mostly-joyous, mostly-happy, well-dressed skeletons! (Then, there is Diablo!) They dance and carry on about their business, just as if they had never left the Earthly realm.

The skeleton figures are all handmade. Martha told me that it’s getting harder to find the them, because tourism in Mexico has dropped to such low levels, due to the drug cartels. Still, the holiday lives on for the Mexican people.

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