Ana Sofia de la Parra • Oct 24, 2023

Painted faces on the Day of the Dead (Darvin Santos/PIXABAY).


Day of the Dead is coming up, ready to show its vibrant colours and magnificent traditions. The Mexican community in Ottawa is preparing to share numerous dishes and dances downtown for one of the most loving holidays of the nation.

The Day of the Dead or día de los Muertos reunites the living and the dead for a night, bringing honour to relatives who have passed away. Families all around Mexico are creating ofrendas, or offerings, and building an altar with their late family members’ favourite snacks, fruits, and drinks like tequila and mezcal. Among these offerings is a traditional pan de muerto, a rich and sugary bread.

Pan de muerto (Nahima Aparicio/UNSPLASH).

The altars see pictures of the deceased relatives whom they are honouring. Their images are surrounded by flowers, especially Mexican marigolds. Marigolds, or as we call them, Cempasuchil, serve as a guide to help the spirits to their ofrendas and as a conduit between the living and the dead. They are bright orange and full of colours and fragrance, symbolizing the beauty and fragility of life. It is a tradition that helps us and encourages us not to be scared of death, rather, to embrace it and celebrate life and how beautiful it is.

This festivity dates back centuries, as before the Spaniards and the Catholic church came to Latin America, numerous Indigenous communities had already established rites that celebrated the deceased, such as “the Aztec festival of the little death.” These same communities have always thought of death as a transition rather than the end of a journey; it’s a new chapter which is the start of an individual’s pathway to “Mitclan,” the place of eternal rest according to Aztec mythology. This thinking and tradition have carried over from Mexico, family to family, generation to generation.

A brightly coloured skull decoration, representing the souls of departed loved ones (Brian Wegman/UNSPLASH).

Growing up in Mexico the Day of the Dead has always been spectacular and astonishing to watch. The dashing colours of the altars and parades celebrating the festivities fill the downtown streets of Mexico City and around the country. Seeing my mom prepare an altar for my grandmother, her mom and setting an offering of her favourite things while setting down a letter for her to read and explaining to us, my brothers and me, about her life, her traditions, stories about her magnificent life… At the end, when she finished telling us stories about her mother, she shed light candles to prepare for her arrival. She put us to bed with a kiss on the forehead and a promise that our grandmother was watching over us and that today she’d come and give us a kiss herself. I wasn’t scared of that; it made me feel warm, happy and loved, exactly what a grandma is supposed to make you feel like.

My mom has always asked us that when she passes, we celebrate her life and her death. She asked me and my brothers to invite our family to a good Mexican meal and party with mariachis and a lot of love for her and her life. She understands that this isn’t her end and that death should be celebrated and welcomed as much as life is. Therefore, I encourage people to go to Byward Market from the 27th to the 29th to celebrate their life and their family relatives who are no longer with us but can be for a night of respect, honour, and a lot of love. Indulge yourself in the magic and prosperity that this festivity enacts in the hearts of those who seek it, as well as those who are no longer with us but on their journey to eternal rest.


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