Dia de los Muertos

We have been celebrating Dia de los Muertos every year since at least 1979. Neither Larry nor I can remember exactly how the tradition started, except that we read about the celebrations in Mexico and liked the idea of integrating death into a celebration–a positively unamerican approach. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a national holiday with all night revelry in graveyards, floats made of marigolds and elaborate altars. At our house, it’s a day to remember the beloved dead, tell stories about them, wear costumes (optional), and eat great Mexican food. In Mexico it’s always November 1-2. Since the US has yet to declare these dates a national holiday, our event is on a convenient Sunday near that date.

Our party has had many varied incarnations, and over the years we’ve built up a trove of decorations which we put out: the wonderful miniature skeletons called calaveras, art, post cards, miniature items to put on altars, etc.  We always have lots of marigolds, lots of candles, and we often burn messages to the dead at some part of the evening. We use Chinese money for the messages, and though primarily Mexican, we have artifacts from many cultures, including the Tibetan spirit house that belonged to my mother.

In Mexico they have sugar skulls which have a place for people’s names  We’ve evolved our own version of skull cookies filled with nuts, raisins and cinnamon sugar. People can name them and eat them at the end of the evening (or sooner) as another way of inviting the dead to the party

It’s an interactive event. People bring their own photos and artifacts, add things to the altars, put flowers in vases, etc.  This year, I filled the labyrinth with marigold petals, and made a path to the door with them.

(Double-click on the first photo, and then click “Start Slideshow” to view the slide shows.)


Here are some of the calaveras and artifacts. We match them with the photos–for example my mother was famous for her jacuzzi on the 20th floor of her upper west side apartment, so she has a little hot tub calavera, along with a few things that were hers. Larry’s mother always had a cup of coffee in her hand, so she has a miniature coffee pot.


We also have a lot of wonderful art that we only display for the week of the event.  Much of it we’ve collected over the years from Roberto Chavez, who’s designed many postcard invitations for our annual party:


As you can see, this is a holiday we really enjoy celebrating! One guest a few years ago said, “Most people have Christmas ornament storage, but you must have Dia de los Muertos ornament storage.” She was right.

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