Celebrating Día de los Muertos


Photo Credit: Irene Fernandez '22

These dancers dressed up in traditional floral dresses paired with floral headpieces and makeup.

Irene Fernandez, News Editor

Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life and a way to honor those who have died. Typically, people celebrate this tradition on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. This tradition originated from people indigenous to Latin America, mainly the Aztecs, who honored their ancestors in various ways. These days are seen as a time where spirits of lost loved ones can connect with their living families again.

Currently, Day of the Dead is celebrated all throughout Mexico and other Latin American countries. Día de los Muertos traditionally consists of family members leaving food or flowers, specifically marigolds, on graves. Also, one of the biggest practices for Dia de los Muertos is making ofrendas (altars) to honor those who have passed.

A car was used to make an altar filled with marigolds and candles. (Photo Credit: Irene Fernandez ’22)

On Nov. 6, 2021, I had the pleasure of attending the Día de los Muertos festival in Santa Ana on 4th Street. This festival occurs every year and consists of music, altars to celebrate loved ones who have passed away, small shops selling various goods, food trucks, and people dressed in traditional wear or with skull makeup.

As I walked through, the first altar I spotted was a vintage car full of marigolds and surrounded by candles. Inside of the car was a figure skeleton as well as lights and serapes. An essential part of the festival was the live music where a band performed for everyone as people gathered to watch or dance.

All throughout the festival were small businesses who had set up stands to sell their goods. Many of these shops had handmade crafts, bead jewelry, crochet earrings, clay animals, crystals, rose crowns, skulls, and traditional dresses. These small booths are typically owned by local families who often make their own items to sell. People also sell painted jewelry boxes and other various goods.

This craft shows a skull head with wings and marigolds adorning it and the box holding it up reads “Viva la Vida” or “Live life.” (Photo Credit: Irene Fernandez ’22)
Many people were selling bracelets, necklaces, clothes, and even beaded bird chains. (Photo Credit: Irene Fernandez ’22)

As people walked through the different areas of the festival, they could see the altars set up for lost family members. Some ofrendas honored famous people like Frida Kahlo, activists like Marsha P. Johnson, and youth lost as a result of violence.

One unique aspect about the altars made for Día de los Muertos is that they can have decorations such as the Monarch butterfly. For Día de los Muertos, Monarch butterflies represent the spirits of lost ones coming to visit family members. Ofrendas and shops are also typically filled with marigolds, a beautiful yellow flower representative of life. Marigolds are considered to attract the spirits of lost people to the altars made to honor them because of their sweet scent.

Many of these altars will have the favorite foods or items of deceased loved ones such as pan dulce, figurines to honor them, handmade jewelry, tamales, and sugar skulls.

A beautiful part of Día de los Muertos is the traditional skull makeup and dresses. At the festival, girls were wearing long dresses covered in floral embroidery and had painted skeleton makeup. While I did not wear makeup, my sister did come up with her own purple skeleton makeup look. The skull makeup worn is typical of La Catrina who wears a floral headpiece and protects those who have passed away. Traditional makeup on Día de los Muertos is to honor the dead and celebrate their lives through something beautiful.

Small shops sold crafted earrings and other goods to celebrate Día de los Muertos. (Photo Credit: Irene Fernandez ’22)


Besides attending festivals, many people celebrate Día de los Muertos with their families at home. Calista Fejeran ‘22 celebrates Día de los Muertos with her mother. She shared what her family does: “My mom and her family put up altars every year for our loved ones that passed.”  Calista continued: “This tradition is special to me because it allows me to embrace my mom’s culture. My favorite part is setting up the altar with my mom and her telling me her favorite stories of our loved ones.”


This was one of the biggest altars at the festival made to honor those who have passed and to celebrate life. (Photo Credit: Irene Fernandez ’22)

Junior Jennifer Hurtado shared what she does: “My family and I celebrate el Día de los Muertos by making traditional bread and food that we display in an ofrenda filled with flowers, candles that have nuestra senora de Guadalupe’s image on it, and the pictures of those who we honor and remember on the day. We also take a moment on this day to say a few prayers, to thank them for the spiritual protection they provide us within our lives.”

Jenny also commented on what she enjoys about this tradition: “My favorite part of Día de los Muertos is learning new things about my family members that I can one day share with my own family, but being able to decorate the ofrenda comes in strong second.”

For Día de los Muertos, people celebrate in many different ways like attending festivals, sharing stories, and making ofrendas. It is a time to honor and remember past loved ones while celebrating life.

The banner reads: “Si nada nos salva de la muerte Al menos que el amor nos salve de la vida,” which means, “If nothing saves us from death at least love saves us from life.” (Photo Credit: Irene Fernandez ’22)