Listen & Learn: The Cultural Significance of Dia de Muertos

Dia de Muertos, otherwise known as the Day of the Dead, is traditional Mexican holiday in which we come together to celebrate and commemorate our friends, family and loved ones who have departed. This annual holiday includes a special altar, the cleaning and decorating of graves, eating traditional foods such as pan de muerto and coming together to remember and celebrate those who have passed.

Perhaps you know of this holiday, but have never heard of the special meanings behind this celebration, such as the various offerings at the altars. Luckily, our neighbors from the Dia de Muertos Committee are here to help us by explaining some of the cultural significances behind this special holiday!


Perhaps some will find it difficult to imagine that a celebration full of colors and bright motifs such as food, drinks and music represents a celebration that refers to death. However, year after year we commemorate the Day of the Dead. We we take this opportunity to approach our loved ones that have passed away and celebrate the life they had. We invite you to learn more about our tradition and join us in celebration!

This celebration of life is and the celebration of death are inseparable. The feast of the Day of the Dead is the result of our pre-Hispanic legacy and the elements of the Catholic religion derived from the Spanish occupation in Mexico. It is one of the most symbolic celebrations of the Mexican culture.

Dia de Muertos altar at the 2017 Northwest Folklife Festival | Photo by Christopher Nelson

One of the tributes offered to our dead is an offering (altar) to show them that they are still present beyond death. The offerings are a fundamental part of the rituals of the festival, and each of the elements that comprise them contain multiple meanings. For example water is placed on the altar so that the deceased quench their thirst. The candles are placed so that souls can find their way and the aroma of copal incense and guide the souls towards the offering. The paper picado symbolizes the wind and the sugar skulls are replicas of the human skulls. The salt is an element of purification and prevents the body from being corrupted in its journey given its color the flowers “cempasuchil” represent the sun that guides the soul of the deceased.


Tal vez a muchos les costara imaginar que una celebracion llena de colores y motivos alegres tales como la comida , bebida y música represente una celebracion que se refiere a la muerte ,año  con año conmemoramos el día de los Muertos aprovechamos la occasion para acercarnos a nuestros muertos y celebrar la vida. Te invitamos a conocer más de esta nuestra tradición acompáñanos a celebrar !

El culto a la vida es profundo y total es también culto a la muerte, son inseparables. La festividad del día de Muertos es el resultado de nuestro legado prehispánico y los elementos de la religión católica derivados de la ocupación española en Mexico.

Altar Michoacano, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Dia de Muertos Seattle

Es una de las celebraciones más simbólicas de los mexicanos.

Uno de los homenajes que se ofrece a nuestros difuntos es una ofrenda para mostrarles que siguen presentes aún más allá de la muerte.

Las ofrendas son parte fundamental de los rituales de la festividad y cada uno de los elementos que las integran encierran múltiples significados, por ejemplo el agua se coloca para que los difuntos saciar su sed. Los cirios y veladoras para que las almas puedan encontrar su camino y el aroma del copal e incienso guían a las almas hacia la ofrenda. El papel picado simboliza el viento, las calaveras de azúcar son réplicas de los cráneos humanos que colocaban las culturas precolombinas. La sal es un elemento de purificación y evita que el cuerpo se corrompa en su viaje y dado su color las flores cempasuchil representan el sol que guia el alma del difunto.

Join Seattle Center and the Dia de Muertos committee in celebrating Dia de Muertos this weekend, from Saturday to Sunday at the Seattle Center Armory!

A special thank you to Andrea Suzuki and Edgardo Garcia for sharing more information about the Dia de Muertos holiday with us!