Dia De Los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead”, is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in Latin American cultures. While the holiday first originated in Mexico, it is now celebrated all over Latin America. According to National Geographic, “Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit”.
A common misconception about the holiday is that it is somehow related to Halloween. While Halloween falls on the day prior to Dia De Los Muertos, it really has no connection to the holiday; Halloween centers around themes of mystery, terror, and fear. On the other hand, Dia De Los Muertos is mostly about love, respect, and honor.
Typically, the festivities for Dia De Los Muertos last over two days in symbolic displays of color, altars, and life-affirming offerings. While the theme of the holiday may be closely related to death, the point and intention of the celebration is to show love and respect for family members or loved ones who have passed on. Over the course of the two day celebration on November 1st and 2nd, towns and cities all throughout Mexico celebrate with a myriad of traditions, such as painting their faces in the infamous “La Katrina” inspired skull/skeleton style, holding parades and parties, singing, dancing, and making altars and offerings to their lost loved ones.
Belen Sandoval Navarro, a Sayulita local community member, is responsible for organizing this year’s festivities for the holiday and has been involved in the celebration for many years. She tells me a bit about the history of preparing for this holiday in Sayulita, and the hard-work put into planning for it.
“10 years ago in Sayulita, a small group of people began this offering, and now we unite with the same goal of honoring our loved ones who are no longer with us. It began by preparing one month in advance with organizing and planning. Ultimately, we created 7 altars accompanied by 2 piñatas, 100 tamales, various sweets, coffee, and 3 chocolate cakes. It was a huge success, and we felt happy and satisfied without imagining that one day our work would become the largest offering of the Bahia Banderas region.”
Most who have been in Sayulita during this holiday know that one of the key components of the Dia De Los Muertos celebration is the numerous detailed altars on display in the plaza, or “ofrendas”. These altars can also be built in private homes and in cemeteries (Ours is located near Playa de Los Muertos). However, these aren’t altars for worshiping our lost ones. Rather, they’re meant to welcome the spirits of those we have lost back to the world of the living. Thus, as a result, the altars are laden with various offerings to the spirits, such as water to help quench thirst after the long journey, a variety of food items and sweet treats, family photos or important sentimental relics, and a candle for each loved one lost.
Belen describes the importance of these altars and offerings:
“The offerings are made by the people of Sayulita for their lost loved ones. We invited all the schools in the town to participate voluntarily to create altars and offerings. There are many children in the village of Sayulita supporting the holiday by putting in their offerings, along with hundreds if not thousands of other volunteers, teachers, and community members. They have worked very hard to draw up resources to cover the needs or shortcomings in creating these altars and offerings. Most of the things that people will see in Sayulita’s offerings are made by hand by. For example, the chopped paper, the wooden crosses with the names of the deceased, the paper-mâché flowers, the candles, and the colorful painted mats.”
This year, Sayulita’s festivities will take place mostly in the plaza over the course of the two days of celebration, starting November 1st and continuing to November 2nd. The plaza will be covered with stunning and intricate displays of altars and offerings. The streets will be full of colorful, vibrant, and exquisitely detailed decorations. This year, Dia De Los Muertos is dedicated to the theme of “died at sea”, the village fishermen that are no longer with us. This is the first time that Dia De Los Muertos is paying tribute to the fisherman. Included in the events will be the annual parade and midnight processional to the cemetery. Furthermore, other planned activities for the celebration include a variety of dance and musical performances.
Belen reminds us about a common misconception related to the holiday: “The Day of the Dead is not about suffering. The Day of the Dead is about waiting for the souls of our loved ones to return to us in the living, and to feel and remember their presence and energy.”
This holiday is one that has always personally left me speechless. The amount of detail, hard-work, and intricacy put in to the many decorations and altars is really breathtaking and awe-inspiring- the beauty in all the bright colors, the hand-made flowers, and the displays are absolutely jaw-dropping. Dia De Los Muertos in Sayulita is a cultural tradition and celebration that you simply can not miss. It really is remarkable how a holiday related to death can be so life-affirming; you will feel the energy and love put into this celebration, and you will feel more alive and more connected to those around as a result. The way Mexico honors their dead is one of the most beautiful traditions I have ever witnessed.
To get more information about the Dia De Los Muertos holiday, the festivities planned, or to find out how to get involved in creating an altar, please get in contact via the Facebook Page.
*Written by: Aanya Sheikh-Taheri