On the Day of the Dead we celebrate life

By Magdalena Mieri

While many were planning their Halloween costumes, parties, and trick or treat routes, a few of us at the National Museum of American History were planning another successful Day of the Dead celebration! Because the museum itself is closed for renovation at the moment, we partnered with the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Museum has been presenting this beautiful program for five years and it continues to be my favorite festival. It is called Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) and yet we celebrate life! The belief behind this ancient Mesoamerican tradition is that there is a continuum of life, death, and re-birth. It is a colorful, spiritual, and rich cultural tradition, with music, dance performances, crafts and food demonstrations, paper flower making, sugar skull decorations, candles, and the exquisite floral aroma of cempasuchitl and amaranth.

People celebrate in their homes, creating altars (called ofrendas in Spanish) that display portraits, favorite foods, and special possessions of their loved ones. Altars are also decorated with candles and marigolds—the light of the candle and scent of the flowers are said to attract the souls of the deceased and draw them back for a short time to take part in the pleasures they once enjoyed in life.

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Please join is in 2009 for next year’s Day of the Dead celebration.

Magdalena Mieri is director of the museum’s Program in Latino History and Culture.