The Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican celebration that dates back to the country’s origins. This day honors the dead and celebrates the living. It recognizes that death is inevitable, yet it encourages us to not be afraid of it.
Story by Andrea Cos
Illustrations by Jesus Acosta
On this day, it is a custom to make altars dedicated to the memory of the dead. These altars typically display a range of things, including pictures of late loved ones, items that showcase the hobbies of their loved ones, beautiful fresh flowers, and most prominently, their loved one’s favorite foods and sweets. Food, particularly the social aspect of it, plays an important part in Mexican culture, so it is no surprise that these altars display it so prominently. The three most common foods on these altars are pan de muertos (day of the dead bread), colorful sugar skulls, and traditional Mexican dishes.
Pan de muerto, or Day of the Dead bread, is a trademark for this celebration. It is a sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun and often decorated with bone-shaped bread pieces.
Sugar skulls are widely associated with the Day of the Dead celebration. These artisanal skulls are made entirely of hardened sugar and artfully decorated with colorful beads.
The traditional Mexican dishes placed on these altars usually include tamales, mole, and pozole. Tamales are a traditional dish made of seasoned meat wrapped in dough and steamed or baked in a corn husk. Mole, a delicious combination of chile spices and chocolate, is a sauce typically used on chicken. Pozole is a traditional stew made with meat and seasoned with shredded cabbage, chili pepper flakes, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado and lime.
This holiday provides the perfect opportunity to honor the deceased by remembering how well they lived. The Day of the Day is a true celebration of life, and what better way to celebrate someone’s life than through what made them happiest. Food has always been an indicator of culture, and the celebration of the dead highlights the importance of it in Mexico.
The Day of the Dead was celebrated here at UT in a variety of ways. The vibrant Hispanic community, along with student organizations, hosted events and altars to commemorate those who have passed away. Discussing México (DIME), a student organization that informs people of the contemporary issues affecting Mexico, displayed a traditional memorial altar at the PCL. The altar payed tribute to Mexican journalists and activists whose voices have been silenced through violence and coercion. “I think the altar portrays exactly what the Day of the Day represents,” said journalism major Samantha Favela. “I think it’s amazing that we are honoring these journalists this way, I think it’s both beautiful and humbling.”
There was also a Dia de los Muertos celebration at Bellmont Hall with free traditional Mexican food and the opportunity to decorate your own sugar skull. This event was hosted by the Center for Mexican American Studies in honor of the Mexican American Heritage Month, which recognizes the culture, heritage and overall contributions that Latinos have made to the United States.
Alejandra Hernandez, a psychology sophomore from Chihuahua, Mexico, said she loved the event because it reminded her of the way she would celebrate with her family back home. “Eating pan de muerto and decorating sugar skulls has become such a big staple of the holiday,” said Hernandez. “It reminded me of what the celebration represents for my family, which is a commemoration and a celebration of those who have died.”