Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration of life and death. While the holiday originated in Mexico, people celebrate this holiday all over Latin America with colorful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons). Learn how the Day of the Dead started and the traditions that make it unique.

Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people 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. During Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts. It takes place on November 1 and 2 (All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar).

Altars (ofrendas)

Photo by Eneas de Troya

People place a collection of objects on a ritual display during the Día de los Muertos celebration. An ofrenda is usually created for an individual person who has died and is intended to welcome them to the altar setting. Also, it may be quite large and elaborate. Marigolds are the main flowers used to decorate the altar.

A common format for an ofrenda contains three levels or tiers.

  • The topmost tier identifies the dead person who is being invited to the altar. It frequently includes photos of the deceased, statuettes of the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, etc.
  • The second tier contains things placed to encourage the dead to feel at home. The deceased person’s favorite food items might go here. For deceased adults, the ofrenda might include a bottle or poured shot glasses of tequila or mezcal. A favorite toy is common if the deceased is a child.
  • The bottom-most tier almost always contains lit candles, so that the spirit of the deceased can see and refresh themselves upon arrival at the altar. It might also have a washbasin, mirror, soap, and a towel.

Literary Calaveras

Calavera means “skull.” But during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, calavera was used to describe short, humorous poems. They were often sarcastic tombstone epitaphs published in newspapers that poked fun at the living. These literary calaveras eventually became a popular part of Día de los Muertos celebrations. Today the practice is alive and well. You’ll find these clever, biting poems in print, read aloud, and broadcast on television and radio programs.

Food of the dead

You work up a mighty hunger and thirst traveling from the spirit world back to the realm of the living. At least that’s the traditional belief in Mexico. Some families place their dead loved one’s favorite meal on the altar.

Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a typical sweet bread (pan dulce). It often features anise seeds and comes decorated with bones and skulls made from dough. The bones might be arranged in a circle, as in the circle of life. Tiny dough teardrops symbolize sorrow.

Sugar skulls are part of a sugar art tradition brought by 17th-century Italian missionaries. Pressed in molds and decorated with crystalline colors, they come in all sizes and levels of complexity.


Day of the Dead is an extremely social holiday that spills into streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night. Dressing up as skeletons is part of the fun. People of all ages have their faces artfully painted to resemble skulls, and, mimicking the calavera Catrina, they don suits and fancy dresses. Many revelers wear shells or other noisemakers to amp up the excitement—and also possibly to rouse the dead and keep them close during the fun.

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On the Far Side of the Sky

In the past few weeks, some of my family members and friends lost their parents. We all know everyone’s earthly journey ultimately ends. However, we are never quite fully prepared when someone so influential in our lives finally takes their last breath. Whether we expect their passing or not, grief is inevitable. For most of us, our parents are the most influential people in our lives. In some cases, like mine, they live hundreds of miles away. Thus, we may only see them on special occasions like holidays.

There will never be another man or woman quite like them and their memory will live on forever. Let the memories of your loved one provide you with comfort as they live forever in your memory.

Julie, Jason, John, and Betty, I dedicate today’s post to your parents. May they rest in peace.  

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John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky

Death hasn’t been kind to John Lennon. Actually, death is never kind, nevermind one as brutal and gruesome as the former-Beatles’ public assassination in 1980. It does seem, however, that in the decades since his murder, his legacy has been tarnished. Stemming from unflattering biographies, memoirs from those who knew him, and, in some cases, his own words. The reputation of his widow, Yoko Ono, meanwhile, has been somewhat rehabilitated. (Though, to be quite fair, the only place it could have gone is up). Since entering The Beatles orbit in late 1966, she has been unfairly blamed for Lennon’s every gaffe. As well as for the actual breakup of “The Fab Four,” a ludicrous assertion.

John Lennon was between two worlds at the dawn of the ’70s. He had quit The Beatles in late 1969, the same year he bought Tittenhurst Park, a 99-acre estate in the countryside west of London. According to assistant and photographer Daniel Richter, “He liked to sit in bed, playing guitar, smoking dope and watching television.” Weary of people who either worshipped him as a pop star or thought of him as a counter-culture pariah, his new home became a refuge. In 1970, he released the sparely recorded and emotionally flaying John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album (my personal pick for his greatest solo work), which, though critically lauded, was not an immediate hit. As he sang in that album’s “God”: “I was the walrus / But now I’m John.”

Imagine: John and Yoko’s Masterpiece

Hungry for the commercial success he had as a Beatle, Lennon began working on a new record at his newly built home studio. Famed “Wall Of Sound” architect Phil Spector was once again producing. And former bandmate George Harrison was on hand, playing guitar on half the album. Session footage is too cool, with the musicians playing off each other and Lennon walking them through the arrangements. Other songs spoke to Lennon’s political beliefs, behavior which can be traced back to 1969’s “Bed-In For Peace”. An effort protesting the Vietnam War, a public act which bore all the hallmarks of Yoko Ono’s conceptual performance art.

Among the album’s standout tracks is “Jealous Guy,” whose chords twist and turn in unexpected and beautiful ways. Of course, the album is best known for “Imagine,” its title track. It is the song that bears the signature of Yoko Ono, inspired by her 1964 book of poetry Grapefruit. Ono, who appears in the film says, “The fact that John and I met was to do this song.” She was not initially recognized as a writer. In 2017, she received a co-writing credit. The National Music Publishers Association recognized “Imagine” as the most influential song of the last 100 years.

In the End

In many ways, John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky is an effort to set the record straight on the couple’s relationship. The Japanese-born Ono was an established artist when she met Lennon at one of her gallery shows in 1966. They were a “merged unit,” according to friends, and reflections of each other. In the end, we are left with a moving portrait of the couple as two ambitious thirtysomething artists engaged with the world and enamored of each other, Ono being the calming Yin to Lennon’s energetic Yang.

John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky, is currently streaming on Netflix.

Source: decider.com

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