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Origins of the Day of the Dead: how Latin Americans celebrate this ancient tradition, part 2

In yesterday's first part of the story about Day of the Dead, Manuel Girón gave us a glimpse on the importance of the Day of the Dead holiday. In this second part, he tells us about many unique traditions families share on this day.

The day of the dead has a different personal meaning for everyone. Dr. María Spicer-Escalante and Dr. Celina Wille, two Latino program specialists at USU, shared their beliefs and what the Day of the Dead means for them as Latinas who grew up with this tradition.  

“For me, it is a reminder to think about those dear ones of mine who have passed away. It hurts a lot immediately after the loss of a loved one, and one goes through grief. Daily life takes you to other tasks that make you forget. So, to have designated the Day of the Dead is to have an opportunity to be able to focus attention on them," said Wille.

“I do believe that the spirit of the dead comes on November 1st and 2nd. So, whenever I set up the offering, I do it with great enthusiasm. I want to believe that they come, that they have the permission to come and meet with us and to be able to have this approach, and I want to continue thinking this way,” said Spicer-Escalante.

In Mexican culture, when someone dies, people have a lapse of time to cry.  In some towns, people can hire a group of women called “mourners” to cry for the deceased to help them cross the threshold to the next world.

“By crying on the Day of the Dead, you are taking the soul away from your loved ones, you have to receive them with music, with a smile, with celebration. The Day of the Dead is a celebration, it is an excuse to have a party, to participate, to eat. Once the food is put on the table, in the offering, the living do not touch the food, that is the food of the dead and it is prohibited to touch it,” said Spicer-Escalante.

Mexican marigold and traditional Mexican dishes are common household décor on the Day of the Dead. They can also be used to decorate the altars and tombs. 

“We want the table to look happy, we want the offering to look happy, so we try to put things of many colors: mole, red mole, something with green sauce, nopalitos, there is always sweet pumpkin with sugar cane, tejocotes, guavas, tamales. Those are the typical foods, really what that loved one liked," said Spicer Escalante.

Some people put out special objects for their loved ones who passed away.

“For example, a toy if it was a child, a musical instrument if that person was musical, other professions, some hobby that person had, they come and can enter the world of the living for a moment and have access to those things that they had in life,” Said Wille.

Manuel Giron produces news content at UPR. As a bilingual reporter, he writes stories in English and Spanish, and is involved in all steps of the reporting process from thinking of story ideas to writing the stories and preparing them for air. He is a Senior at Utah State University majoring in Political Science and minoring in Portuguese. He loves to write, read, listen to music, and swim. He is incredibly excited about working for UPR and learning about journalism in the process.