There are some things about my culture that I uphold as tradition. For example, I always honor the family assembly line in December as my family makes at least 500 tamales. Tejano music continues to be a staple of our Saturday morning cleaning routines. I will make a good arroz almost as good as my mom’s. The beautiful tradition of the fall season begins with Day of The Dead. Throughout the years, I learned of the tradition and symbols that comprise this beloved time. 

La Catrina by: Jared Christiansen
La Catrina by: Jared Christiansen

Day of the Dead is a sacred and time-honored tradition for me. However, I did not begin to honor its meaning until I learned about it during my undergrad experience. As a result, it became a significant part of my life.

I do not look at death like most people. Moreover, I see it as a transition and believe that the soul never really dies. My reaction to death just looks different. It is a time for celebration and remembrance of the time spent with our loved ones that have passed. 

There is great significance to the symbols that adorn the Day of The Dead altar. Furthermore, the meaning and symbolism with each item used, represent and honor our loved ones who have departed. This is a brief list and explanation of items that you would traditionally see on an altar.

Day of The Dead Altar
Day of The Dead Altar
Marigold: The marigold is also known as the flower of death. I always adorn these beautiful, vibrant, and fragrant flowers on my altar.
Pictures of departed loved ones: I honor my departed loved ones by including photos of them on my altar. 
Foods and drinks: Foods and drinks are such a significant part of life. Consequently, I prepare dishes of items that were favorites as well as drinks like coffee, water, and any other items enjoyed while alive and put on the altar during this time. 
Pan de Muerto: A popular sweet bread that adorns the altar for the deceased loved one to enjoy.
Any cherished items or toys: These are items or keepsakes that our loved ones identified with; I include these items as a way of remembrance.
Papel Picado: These intricate tissue paper art designs represent the connection between life and death with vibrant colors.
(Sugar) Skulls: The skull represents the acceptance of death as a part of life. 
Candles: Candles are lit to illuminate the way for the soul to visit.

Many of the members on the Wafi Media team hold tradition with Day of The Dead. However, not everyone celebrates in the same way. Certainly, we all have beautiful traditions that are unique to our prospective families. Do you have any traditions that you include in your Day of the Dead celebration? We would like to hear from you. Please leave a comment in the comment box below with your tradition or any items you add to your altar that haven’t been mentioned.

Día de Los Muertos photos

La Catrina: Jessica Montalvo

Photo credit: Jared Christiansen

MUAH: Hannah Dorion

Earrings: Eres Una Maravilla

Marigold Hair Flowers: Flairware Boutique

Dress: La Femme En Noir

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Jessica Montalvo
Jessica Maria Montalvo has dedicated her life to the diverse field of education for over 19 years. She knows the importance of cultural inclusivity and diversity, equity, and inclusion as a part of what she stands for as not only an educator, but a life-long learner as well. Jessica is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Indiana University, and from Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne with her teaching Certification for Secondary Education. Later she earned a Master of Education from Indiana Wesleyan University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana Tech in the global leadership program. Her passion for service has translated to her involvement in creative projects which include roles within an original musical theater production about mental illness written by James Wesley Williams, since its full-cast production opening premiere in 2014. She is also a producer for the recent film short, Grummy. Her greatest work of art is when she became a mother in 2020 to her beautiful baby girl, Lara Juliana Montalvo.