Woman with her face painted like a skull in Dia de Muertos makeup and a floral headdress

Día de los Muertos: A Day to Celebrate Life, not Death

Woman with her face painted like a skull in Dia de Muertos makeup and a floral headdress

(Denis Perez-Bravo / Richmond Pulse file)

First Person, Various Authors

Editor’s Note: We asked local high school students to tell us what Día de los Muertos, a.k.a. the Day of the Dead, means to them and their families and what it teaches them about life and death. Their responses have been lightly edited.

The way that my family celebrates Día de los Muertos is by setting up an altar a couple days before. We put up pictures of my grandparents and objects that remind us of them and their favorite snacks that they used to enjoy. When it is Día de los Muertos, my family all comes together, and we start setting up a bigger altar at the cemetery. We bring my grandparents’ favorite foods and drinks. This holiday has so much meaning to me as it helps me cope with my grandfather’s death. He was a father figure to me when I was younger and now that he is gone, it was very hard for me. Día de los Muertos celebrates the life of those who are now gone. This day is when our family comes back to visit, and we honor the memories that they left. We honor and celebrate the impact that they left in their lifetime. In my family, we don’t see this holiday as a sad or scary day; rather we see it as a way to cherish life. We cherish and celebrate the life we have and the life that is now passed on.

– Isabella Montano, 16

 My family and I put pictures of our dead family members and candles around them. We always do it because we love them, and we are going to make sure we don’t ever forget about them. We want them to know that we love them and they are always going to be with us and we wish there where still here. We also don’t forget about friends. My mom had a best friend who always took us everywhere, and he came to our house a lot and we loved him. When he passed away, my mom got really sad for a week. But she realized she can’t just be in bed all day and be sad; she would have to be strong and not think about it. Every time, we put pictures and put candles and make food and eat at the table together like a family.

– Carlos Esquivel, 15

In my whole life, holidays are something special because the whole [family] gets together. It’s important because I get to see all my family and my friends and celebrate that holiday and eat lots of food. Losing someone in your family isn’t easy. It’s really hard. But the people are always going to be in our hearts forever.

– Edna Orellana, 16

I celebrate the holiday by enjoying good food and remembering those who passed away, whether it’s a family member or someone else. It teaches me about death — that [even if] the person is gone physically they’re always there spiritually, in memory and in our hearts. Everyone celebrates the holiday in their own way. Some may celebrate the holiday and many do not. Some just celebrate for their loved ones. Some just celebrate it [but] don’t understand the holiday. The rest who don’t choose to celebrate the holiday and just enjoy the food, it’s OK not everyone understands the holiday.

– Anisa Providence, 16

Día de Muertos isn’t something I personally celebrate. I don’t celebrate this holiday because it’s not something that my mom celebrated. In Mexico, my mom’s side of her family does celebrate Día de Muertos. It’s funny to me because my mom hates skeletons and the thought of her celebrating Día de Muertos in Mexico would probably freak her out. She does send her prayers, but she doesn’t go to any parades and dance in the streets. Death is taught to me to be something that is peaceful and only temporary. My mom says that the body you’re in is only temporary and that God will choose when you die and no one else can. Death is something that my family talks about because we try and understand that it is something that is inevitable.

– Diana Rodriguez,17

I celebrate Día de los Muertos by putting up pictures of deceased family members with candles and their favorite foods. We also mourn their death because I know two relatives whose lives got cut short because of a disease. After, I pray, so I can live longer because dying young is tragic. Finally, after the night has passed, the candles have been put out. To me, that means they have visited us.

– Benjamin Blanco, 15

I’m Mexican, but I don’t celebrate this day because I prefer to celebrate life and not death. When Día De Los Muertos arrives, it’s just a normal day for me. I don’t do anything special. But I respect what other people do and believe.

– Adelina Vargas, 17

I put candles, a picture of my grandma, flowers and her favorite food. It’s important because she was important to me.

– Maya Mena, 18

Día de Muertos is important. The festivals look so fun and exciting. I want to go and experience the festival in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is filled with a whole lot of festive things that is very bright and vibrant.

– Jubal Glover, 18

Here in the United States, I don’t celebrate it because not many people here know about the Day of the Dead. In my country, I celebrated the Day of the Dead by making bread. I went to leave flowers for dead relatives, and we went to fly kites in a very large field.

– Branli Alvarado, 18

Even though our loved ones are dead, their spirit isn’t. Some people can actually feel their spirits with them. We don’t celebrate their death. We celebrate the life they lived and what they did for this world.

– Alexandra Zarate, 15

On this holiday, we used to celebrate by making an altar to remember a deceased [person]. In the altar, we put a photo of that person, flowers, food, candies, things that person liked. But when we came to this country, we stopped making the altar. We just make food to eat with my family, and I make an altar at school in my Spanish class, but this year I don’t know what we will do. This holiday is important to me because all those people who have passed away deserve to be remembered.

– Leslie Gutierrez, 16

I don’t really celebrate the holiday but I do like to dress up and eat candy or food. It’s important because it’s a part of tradition in our family. It teaches us that everyone lives on in the spirit world and we should always honor their life and not death.

– Casandra Leiva, 15

A young woman wearing skull face makeup and a headdress of orange and purple flowers.

A young woman dressed up as La Catrina, (Mario Luna, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

To me, Día de Muertos is one of the most significant days in the year because of its important to my culture. There’s just so much about it that’s so fascinating. For example, I love how close I feel to my dead family members. It’s a day where we remember and honor our lost ones. Besides that, we get to do really cool stuff. For example, women get to dress as Catrinas, which can become very elegant and cool. The lesson that it teaches us is that we’ll never be forgotten and that we’re always going to be tied to this world some way.

– Alondra Carmona, 17

I do not really celebrate Día de Muertos. My family doesn’t do anything that day. It teaches me that you have to care for people while they are still here. It can bring people together to remember the good times they had. Sometimes, it brings people closer together and makes people treasure each moment they have. It gives people a day to grieve but celebrate their loved ones’ lives.

-Maricela Taylor, 15

I never really celebrated Día de Muertos, so I don’t really know how to celebrate or feel about it. I’m sure, though, that it is a lovely time to celebrate your loved ones and remember them. I’d like to get the chance to learn about the celebration and tradition. I just love how it’s so beautiful and creative. Everything about it is wonderful.

– Michael Souksumphan, 17

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