Who Celebrates Dia de los Muertos?

UNITED STATES

Is Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead, celebrated by Latinos around the world—”The Next New American Holiday”? This infographic makes a convincing case! (Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum)

Use our resources to better understand Dia de los Muertos!

How beautiful is this photo? Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a two-day festival that takes place every November 1 and 2. Although most strongly identified with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America and everywhere with a Latino population, including Los Angeles, California, above. Photograph by Laura Hasbun, National Geographic Your Shot

How beautiful is this photo? Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a two-day festival that takes place every November 1 and 2. Although most strongly identified with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America and everywhere with a Latino population, including Los Angeles, California, above.
Photograph by Laura Hasbun, National Geographic Your Shot

Discussion Ideas

  • Do you or people in your community celebrate Dia de los Muertos? How?
  • Read through our “media spotlight” photo gallery on Dia de los Muertos. Read the brief background information, and see if you can answer the questions (reproduced here).
    • Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America, including South America and the Caribbean. In the United States and Canada, the tradition exists only in areas with a large Latin American population, such as Los Angeles or Vancouver. Why do you think this is not a more widely celebrated American or Canadian holiday?
      • Dia de los Muertos has its origins in Aztec traditions honoring the dead. The Aztec Empire’s influence extended throughout present-day Mexico and Central America, while few Native Americans of the present-day U.S. shared Aztec traditions. They would be unlikely to adopt Dia de los Muertos rituals.
      • Latin America was largely colonized by Catholics, while northern North America was largely colonized by Protestants. Though both Christian, these traditions have different religious calendars, and honor saints and holy days in different ways. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are more important in the Catholic calendar than the Protestant calendar.
      • Latin America was largely colonized by Spain and Portugal, while the U.S. and Canada were colonized mostly by the British and French. National traditions influence religious celebrations. Even though both Spain and France were Catholic nations, for instance, Spanish citizens celebrated All Saints Day with family reunions, feasts, and festivals. Few French citizens marked the day at all.
      • Protestant British and Catholic Spanish explorers had wildly different approaches to the native populations they colonized. Catholic missionaries often incorporated native influences into their religious teachings. They adapted Aztec traditions with All Saints Day to create Dia de los Muertos, where elements of both celebrations are retained. Spanish explorers were also more likely to marry indigenous people, creating a hybrid (mestizo) culture where such cultural adaptation is a way of life.
    • In some of these photos, masks and other decorations are only half-decorated with calacas and calaveras. Why?
      • Dia de los Muertos celebrates death as a part of the human experience: Every living thing will eventually die. Every human being, no matter how beautiful or well-dressed, will eventually be exposed as nothing more than a skeleton and skull. The half-decorated calacas and calaveras recognize this duality.
      • The dead are a part of the living community, participating in the same way they did in life. Although their flesh may have disappeared, their cultural associations have not. Skeletons representing firefighters may still ride in a fire truck, for instance, or a calaca of a vaquero (cowboy) may still ride a horse.
    • In many parts of Mexico, participants in Dia de los Muertos festivities wear shells or other noisemakers on their clothing and jewelry. Why?
      • The dead are a part of the community, but invisible to the living. Shells and noisemakers will wake the dead from their sleep, and keep them close during the festivities.
      • Many of the dead were musicians or enjoyed music and dancing.
      • Dia de los Muertos is a celebration, and music is an important part of the joyous atmosphere.
  • Look through the Golin Harris infographic (reproduced on the Smithsonian site), and focus on the final panel. Why do you think more people celebrate Dia de los Muertos in the West than anywhere else in the country?
    • Dia de los Muertos is primarily a Mexican holiday, and the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico have huge Mexican and Mexican-American populations. (Texas does, too, and I suspect a plurality of the 21% of people who celebrate the holiday in the South are Texans!)

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