While Día de los Muertos is widely known throughout the United States, there is still much confusion surrounding the holiday and its significance. We caught up with Erica Garcia, the Curriculum and Community Coordinator for the National Hispanic Cultural Center to help set the record straight. 

The annual celebration takes place on November 1st and November 2nd, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, respectively.  

Dia de los Muertos - National Hispanic Cultural Center

Who does Día de los Muertos honor?

Death and the traditions around death are universally shared by all culture groups. In the United States, we celebrate the memory of loved ones every year with Memorial Day. The practice of altars to honor people is common among culture groups, as is caring for family grave sites. Originating in Mexico, Día de los Muertos is an annual celebration meant to honor, remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones. It is continually evolving and is embraced throughout Latin America and everywhere with a Latino population, including right here in Albuquerque. The celebration gives hope to our own inevitable mortality. 

What makes this occasion special? 

For Día de los Muertos, there is belief that the dead have divine permission to return to family homes for twenty-four hours each year. This is celebrated throughout Mesoamerica in an atmosphere of love and remembrance as opposed to mourning and sadness. What makes this occasion special are the rituals and practices tied to the structure of our lives: life and death, light and dark, joy and pain are all part of the foundation of our experiences. This is a time of reunion and celebration, while constructing meaning into one's life.

 Skeletons Dia de los Muertos - Flickr Creative Commons

How is contemporary Día de los Muertos celebrated? 

Contemporary Día de los Muertos evolves with its communities from small villages to cities throughout the Americas including the U.S. Above all, Día de los Muertos is a day set aside for families and communities to honor ancestors and loved ones, while celebrating the cycle of life. During this time, the dead are awakened from their eternal sleep to celebrate with family. These celebrations oftentimes include food, drink and activities that the dead once enjoyed while living. Skeltons and skulls (calacas and calaveras), are also a familiar symbol of the holiday and appear in various forms - from parade masks to sweet treats - most commonly shown celebrating life. For the most part, the altar is the central focus of the celebration, filled with provisions and remembrances. 

Marigold Parade - Courtesy of My Modern Met 

How can the community celebrate here in Albuquerque? 

You can learn more about Día de los Muertos and the events happening at the National Hispanic Cultural Center here. For other events taking place around Albuquerque - including the Marigold Parade & Festival - look here.


Erica Garcia has been with the State of New Mexico for 15 years in various capacities, including Chief of Education for the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors.