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Catholic Cemeteries: Día de Los Muertos – A Day of Celebration and Remembrance


By Kathy Fanger

“Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended. And when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.”*

*From Preface 1 in the Mass for the Dead


Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is one of Mexico’s diadelosmuertostraditional holidays reuniting and honoring beloved ancestors, family, and friends. It is an ancient ritual when the living commune with the dead – a mystical event when the veil is lifted between their two realms and they may share a day together.

The historical roots of this celebration date back to the pre-Hispanic cultures of Meso-America’s indigenous people of Mexico for over more than 3,000 years. When the Spaniards conquered the country, this indigenous custom was rooted so deeply that, after five centuries of colonization, it has continued to survive and remains celebrated to this day. Indigenous people believed that souls did not die, that they continued living in Mictlan (Place of Death), a special place for them to finally rest. Tradition holds that on Día de Los Muertos, the dead return to earth to visit their living relatives.

Throughout each period in Mexican culture, death seems to hold no terror. In Mexican art, legends and religion, death has not been a mysterious and fearful presence, but a realistic recognizable character as life itself. Día de Los Muertos expresses this perspective: it is not a mournful commemoration, but a happy and colorful celebration of life where Death takes a lively, friendly expression, and is not frightening or strange.

This special day is a time when family members share memorable stories recalling the lives of their ancestors. Offerings and altars (ofrendas) which include photos, mementos and other favorite items of the deceased are created to welcome and remember the dead and to express love. Ofrendas typically include the four main elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. Creating ofrendas and recalling stories is a wonderful opportunity to teach children about those who came before them.

Día de Los Muertos is a time of celebration and a time to remember our deceased family and friends. Rather than to deny and fear death, this day teaches us to accept and contemplate the meaning of mortality and to celebrate life.

We invite you to participate in the 7th annual (free) event at Calvary Catholic Cemetery on October 29 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Come with photos and memorabilia to place on the community altar. View the unique altar displays created by Catholic school and parish children that honor their loved ones. The opening prayer service begins at 11 a.m. followed by a day of wonderful ritual, music and dance. There is a free children’s craft area and bounce house, plus sale items from food and art vendors. See below for more details.