As the end of October approaches, millions of people of Mexican and Latino heritage will be preparing to celebrate the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos in Spanish). This day is celebrated every year on November 1. It is a holiday that combines Aztec and Roman catholic practices and beliefs.
Those who celebrate the Day of the Dead build alters of deceased loved ones and visit their ancestors’ grave site. They decorate the grave with marigold flowers, candles, incense and other gifts. Graves of dead children are typically decorated with toys where as adult graves are decorated with bottles of tequila and the deceased’s favorite foods and beverages, according to an article by the Arizona Republic.
“This is not a Mexican Halloween,” said Mike Ramirez, a professor in the Department of Spanish at WMU. “This is more of a spiritual holiday to remember the souls of the departed.”
The tradition of the Day of the Dead can trace its roots 500 years when Spanish conquistadors came to the New World. They observed Meso-Americans practicing rituals of keeping skulls as memorials that symbolized death and rebirth. Today, real skulls have been replaced by wooden and candy skulls that are placed on alters and graves.
Western Michigan University built their own version of a decorated alter on the third floor of Waldo Library. This alter is dedicated to Carlos Fuentes, a Mexican novelist and essayist, who passed away last May. Ramirez said that this is one of the few times that an alter was built for presentation to the public. For those who want to learn about the Spanish culture, this is a great opportunity to see up close what a decorated alter looks like.