multi-colored sugar skull figurines
Today, Nov. 2 is Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated throughout the world. Photo: Sam Brand

JACKSON, Wyo. — Today, Nov. 2 is Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout the world in which family members honor and aid their deceased family members. Families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives which includes, food, drink and celebration. The holiday is traditionally celebrated each year from Nov. 1 through Nov. 2.

According to tradition, the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on Oct. 31 and the spirits of children can rejoin their families for 24 hours, known as el Dia de los Inocentes, or the Day of the Children. The spirits of adults return on Nov. 2 for 24 hours for Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. The holiday also coincides with Catholic feasts, the All Saints Day on Nov. 1, and All Souls Day on Nov. 2.

Origins of the holiday date back at least 3,000 years, to the rituals honoring the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The Aztecs and other Nahua people living in what is now central Mexico held a cyclical view of the universe and saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life. Upon dying, a person was believed to travel to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead. Only after getting through nine challenging levels, a journey of several years, could the person’s soul finally reach Mictlán, the final resting place.

In 2008, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) added Día de los Muertos to the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

According to UNESCO, families facilitate the return of the souls to Earth by laying flower petals, candles and offerings along the path leading from the cemetery to their homes. The deceased’s favorite dishes are prepared and placed around the home shrine and the tomb alongside flowers and typical handicrafts, such as paper cut-outs. Great care is taken with all aspects of the preparations, for it is believed that the dead are capable of bringing prosperity (e.g. an abundant maize harvest) or misfortune (e.g. illness, accidents, financial difficulties) upon their families depending on how satisfactorily the rituals are executed.

According to National Geographic, the centerpiece of the holiday is the ofrenda or altar. Ofrendas are meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. As such, they’re loaded with offerings—water to quench thirst after the long journey, food, family photos, and a candle for each dead relative. If one of the spirits is a child, you might find small toys on the altar. Marigolds are the main flowers used to decorate the altar. Scattered from altar to gravesite, marigold petals guide wandering souls back to their place of rest. The smoke from copal incense, made from tree resin, transmits praise and prayers and purifies the area around the altar.

The calaveras or skull, is a common symbol of the holiday. Calaveras literarias, lighthearded poems that mock or poke fun of people are also an important aspect of the holiday.

According to PBS, calvera literarias, which translates to “skull literature,” are inspired by the iconic “La Catrina” skull imagery, derived from the Mesoamerican goddess Mictecacihuatl — queen of the underworld. In the 20th century, La Catrina was re-imagined by Mexican artists José Guadalupe Posada and Diego Rivera as an elegantly dressed female skeleton. This feminine figure quickly became associated with Día de los Muertos.

“The Day of the Dead celebration holds great significance in the life of Mexico’s indigenous communities. The fusion of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Catholic feasts brings together two universes, one marked by indigenous belief systems, the other by worldviews introduced by the Europeans in the sixteenth century,” says UNESCO.

Today in Jackson, One22 along with other community partners are hosting a community-wide celebration of Día de los Muertos. Community members are invited to hunt for 10 day of the dead ofrendas set up at outdoor locations around Jackson. The Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum’s ofrenda will feature a give-away sticker and free Museum entrance on November 2 from 3:30-6:30 pm, plus history about various Jackson Hole cemeteries.

After visiting all 10 alters, players are invited to stop by One22’s Jackson Cupboard at 245 North Glenwood to enter the raffle and pick up a traditional Día de los Muertos treat.

Este 2 de noviembre One22 Resource Center y sus socios locales estarán organizando una celebración comunitaria del Dia de los Muertos. Para participar en este festejo descargue el mapa y la tarjeta BINGO AQUÍ y únase a la búsqueda de diez ofrendas del Día de Muertos instalados en los distintos lugares alrededor de Jackson. Cuando complete su tarjeta BINGO visitando los 10 ofrendas, pase por Jackson Cupboard, 245 North Glenwood, para participar en la rifa y recoger un regalo tradicional del Día de los Muertos!

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.