BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It looks deadly, but it’s all about life — and it’s also a Mexican tradition.
Every year on Nov. 2, loved ones who have died come back to visit. But instead of mourning, they are welcomed with food, love and a party. A popular gathering point is their last resting place: our cemeteries.
“We do it for our loved ones that have passed, and what we do is we remember them by placing candles, pan de muertos, sweet bread and whatever favorite food they had,’ said Gina Guzman with the Historic Union Cemetery in Bakersfield. “Or memorabilia — if you look at the memorabilia, you’ll know that its theirs.”
The altar de muertos is traditionally made of three or seven steps. Three steps represent the sky, the earth and Mictlan, the underworld in Aztec mythology. The seven levels represent the steps souls take to rest in peace.
The steps are typically covered with a black cloth and many types of food, and traditional offerings include water, candles and salt to attract a loved one’s spirit to return.
The traditional path of the cempasuchi, or a marigold flower, is to guide them to the altar.
If you want to start celebrating this tradition, the doors are open.
“You can do the traditional Dia de los Muertos celebration, or just a picture and a candle. Something that will remind you of them,” said Guzman. “Maybe it’s a baseball because they loved going out to the baseball game. Maybe it can be music, a song — something that will remember their tradition.”
Twenty miles down the road, the City of Shafter is preparing to celebrate Dia de los Muertos for the first time.
“I think what really helped to expand that was obviously Disney’s Coco,” said Irene Montoya with the City of Shafter. “That really helped everybody really learn a little bit more about what the celebration is all about, and also teach younger generations about this beautiful, beautiful celebration.”
Not to be confused with Halloween, Dia de los Muertos comes from the pre-Hispanic Indigenous rituals that honor death.
Tradition also observes Nov. 1 as All Souls’ Day, which is dedicated specifically to children who are no longer with us.
In 2008, the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.