Día de los Muertos is a longstanding tradition in Latin American countries though it is primarily associated with Mexico in popular culture. The celebration is more than a single day’s event though. It befins on November 1 (All Saints Day or “el Dia de los innnocentes” which honors children who have departed) and runs through November 2 (All Souls Day, which honors adults)1. It is during this time the souls of those who have departed return to provide council or advise loved ones.
Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Day of the Dead celebrations recognize death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On these days, the dead are an active part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.2
The tradition of the celebration is a gravesite visit, which may not be practical in the United States, so it was adapted to setting up alters in homes and community events. Altars are usually decorated with flowers, candles, pan de muerto, ceramic skulls, and most importantly pictures of loved ones. Food can placed on the altar consists of the loved ones favorite dishes and treats. Drinks should be placed in the altar to quench the thirst of the dead after their long journey back home.1
The ofrenda, a temporary alter, is often the most recognized symbol of Día de los Muertos. It is a way for families to honor their loved ones and provide them what they need on their journey. They place down pictures of the deceased, along with items that belonged to them and objects that serve as a reminder of their lives.3 The alters traditional include cempasúchil (a type of marigold flower native to Mexico), monarch butterflies (which are believed to hold the spirits of the departed), and calaveritas de azucar (or sugar skulls).3
 Tayoya, Helen. The Day of the Dead – November 2nd. Retrieved from http://www.unm.edu/~htafoya/dayofthedead.html
 Carly-Sue. Dia de los Muertos. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/dia-de-los-muertos/
 Anderson, Maria. 5 Facts About Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Retrieved from http://insider.si.edu/2016/10/5-facts-dia-de-los-muertos-day-dead/