Day of the Dead: What is the true meaning of the Mexican celebration?

Every year on November 1 and 2, Mexican communities across the world join in the celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Day Of The Dead Altar by UoG Mexican Society

By Rebekah O’Reilly

Every year on November 1 and 2, Mexican communities across the world join in the celebration of the Day of the Dead.

The colourful ceremonies held by the community set out to commemorate loved ones that have passed on to the next life and welcome them back to the earthly world for a night.

Whilst many of us may know of this from the Disney film Coco, the Mexican Society at the University of Galway have shared what the true significance of the Day of the Dead is to those who celebrate:

“The Day of the Dead is a significant celebration in Mexican culture as it symbolizes a combination of our pre-hispanic and Catholic origins. This occasion commemorates the return of the souls of our departed loved ones.”

Mexican society ambassadors Mayra A. Sanchez and Andres Arce Martinez shared that much care is taken in ensuring that the memories of their loved ones are kept alive, as they set up alters with keepsakes of their passions whilst they lived on earth:

“As part of this celebration, we prepare ourselves as if we were having a party and create altars called Ofrendas. These altars are set up in cemeteries and homes and feature the favorite foods, drinks, personal objects, and photographs of our departed loved ones, including family members, friends, and even pets.

“We decorate the altar with marigold flowers, candles, and tissue paper with cut-out shapes known as papel picado. Moreover, we put salt, water, and copal on the altar to help guide our loved ones back home.”

The Mexican Society of UoG aimed to share this beautiful celebration of life with the wider University of Galway community, by bringing an example of a Day of the Dead altar to the Universities ‘Hallows’ Halloween party.

When asked if the day had gained any new significance for members of the society as they celebrate away from home, the ambassadors shared:

“For us, the Mexican Society in the University of Galway, this celebration is an excellent opportunity to spread Mexican culture and preserve our traditions, even though we live abroad. We strongly believe that nobody truly dies as long as they are remembered, and we keep the memory of our people alive by celebrating their lives.

“My favourite part of the day of the dead is setting up the altar with family and friends. I enjoy creating bonds while sharing memories of the people I love that have passed away.”

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